If you have ever cut out images from a fashion magazine and pasted them together into a collage, then Under Your Smell at Photo Elysée, Lausanne, will feel somewhat familiar. The difference is that the cut-and-paste composition is now life-size – its component parts hanging down from the gallery’s ceiling on fabric prints, which are organised into a labyrinth. The common motif here is a figurine of women’s legs strutting out of a top hat. The limbs hug a flower, dangle from an earring and balance on a big toe. The words “Scandal” and “J.P.G.” also hide in plain sight across this multilayered environment. At the end of the maze, oversized cushions are scattered across the floor with the same visuals stitched into the lining. A montage video plays against the ceiling, where viewers learn that the initials from before stand for Jean Paul Gaultier (b. 1952) – the French fashion designer whose perfume, Scandal, forms the basis of the show.
Third-year students at École cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) were tasked with creating photographs that are inspired by the fragrance, working with photographer Nicolas Coulomb and the fashion house’s Creative Director Florence Tétier. Whilst the show’s claim to capture “new definitions of beauty and body expressions” feels somewhat forced – there doesn’t, for example, seem to be a single subject above the age of 30 – the students’ interpretations produce a sensory experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. Each work, whether a visual abstraction or a more conventional advertisement for the product, plays with light and water on skin. Images begin to blur together as you walk through the gallery. The sensuality of that feeling comes into your head and stays clouded around you as you navigate the exhibition. In other words, you leave Under Your Smell feeling as if you’ve just walked through a pleasurable mist of perfume.
Photo Elysée, Lausanne 3 March – 21 May
Words: Samuel Harwood
1. © ECAL/ Angèle Marignac-Serra, Camille Spiller
2. Jean Paul Gaultier X Ecal © Ecal/lea Sblandano & Valérie Geissbühler