Communicating Scent: Hackathon

Exploring Smell Vocabularies and Classification Systems

20 Jan 2018
21 Jan 2018

What structures do we adopt in classifying scents? What language do we use when we speak about scents? Would it be possible to develop a more rich language, through and with scents? In search to answer these questions, Mediamatic teams up with the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Klara Ravat, Caro Verbeek, and Saskia Wilson-Brown to produce a weekend devoted to dismantling, analysing and (potentially) restructuring how we classify odours, and exploring how we communicate about – and with – scent. The theme of the weekend was inspired in part by Sissel Tolaas‘ work with NASALO, as well as other pioneering work around language and scent taxonomies.

Please note that this event is by invitation only, except for the Group Presentations on Sunday Jan 21st, at 5pm. Please see below for more information.


Discussing Scent during Hackathon - Giulia Menicucci

Odorama: Reading Scents

The program starts with a special edition of Caro Verbeek’s Odorama, titled ‘Reading scents: experimental approaches to preserving and describing aromatic heritage’. Artist Peter de Cupere, and researchers Kate McLean, Laura Speed and Cecilia Bembibre will present the work they have done with language and olfaction. The talks will be supplemented by a performance by Han van der Vegt and Klara Ravat.

Scent Taxonomies and Olfactory Vocabularies

By inviting many international smell-experts, this weekend hopes to contribute to a better linguistic structure for scent. By the end of the weekend of smelling, problem-identifying and – yes – hacking into existing structures and aromatic archetypes, we hope to present a possible enhancement on how we use existing language to describe scent, and a deep examination of how we classify odorants. We also hope to experiment with assigning data-driven meanings to specific aromatic chemicals.


The two-day Hackathon starts with a brief talk by Cecilia Bembibre about existing scent taxonomies, followed by a talk by Caro Verbeek about existing olfactory vocabularies (and current and past efforts made in this realm). Afterwards, Saskia Wilson-Brown will lead a smelling session where we find the classification language for materials that don’t easily slot into existing scent structures. Klara Ravat will then help self-directed working groups set goals and outcomes, and we’ll get to work.


A hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects. We were attracted to this culture of collaboration and sharing, and so we thought to apply the principles of the hackathon to the question of scent taxonomies, inviting perfumers, artists, programmers, technologists and thinkers to explore how we speak and communicate about scent.

Special thanks to sponsors: IAOIFF and WOW