Artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter sat in his Talmadge studio surrounded by glass vials filled with scents. Behind him was a long piece of paper mounted on the wall filled with handwritten notes.
“This is somewhere in between a storyboard and music notation,” he said.
The scribble- and doodle-filled paper is essentially a map of memories. It’s the visual breakdown of four short memoirs by San Diego writers, and Goeltzenleuchter has singled out several moments in each of the stories that he hopes to bring to life through smells he’s laboriously mixed by hand. It often takes him weeks or even months to get a scent just right.
Goeltzenleuchter picked up a small vial of liquid, dabbed some on a blotter and held it under my nose. At first, the smell wasn’t recognizable, but as he told me more about the moment it’s meant to evoke, my brain slowly began realizing what it was: body odor. But not the gag-inducing kind; instead, he’d emulated the type of sweet sweat that seemingly contains weirdly pleasant pheromones that some folks admit to enjoying.
“It’s a story about a former lover who’d passed and [the writer] described his smell,” he said. “The way she described it, she talked about the parakeets and how even the parakeets liked his smells so much they would nibble on his armpit hairs.”
Goeltzenleuchter is one of 10 local artist to be awarded this year’s San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant, which give artists $20,000 to work on new projects. He teamed up with the literary nonprofit SD Writers, Ink and started work on “Olfactory Memoirs,” a collaboration with emerging and established writers that set out to reconstruct memories through smell.