Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LUSH Gorilla Perfumes Vol. IV Exhibit in Dallas

I didn't expect to have a profoundly soulful experience when I went to the LUSH Gorilla Perfumes Vol. IV gallery tour in Dallas's trendy but slightly funky Deep Ellum arts district yesterday. One doesn't expect to encounter feel-good, teary-eyed moments on an excursion to sniff perfume on a Sunday afternoon but yes, that happened.

This fourth edition of the LUSH Gorilla popup grew from a chance meeting which turned to friendship which turned to a collaboration between Lush Perfumer Simon Constantine and Dallas-based artist Hal Samples. Samples often focuses his art and photography on the forgotten population, the homeless, and from this grew the exhibit asking the question, "What is home?" The perfumes are inspired from Constantine's and Samples' exploring memories of home but also asking the question, "what if you don't have a home?" LUSH has a long history of being involved in humanitarian projects. They were founded in the mid-90's in the UK to provide organic, cruelty-free products and since then have donated and raised funds for numerous humanitarian projects. This exhibit takes this credo to the next level, trying to make its audience experience empathy and perhaps question their beliefs through the use of art paired with scent.

The installations, which I will describe below, were very impressive and thought provoking but what really brought this whole experience full circle was a performance by the Dallas Street Choir, a group of homeless from the Dallas streets who participate in a choir originated and led by Dr. Jonathan Palant. The choir's motto is "Homeless, not voiceless." The venue for Gorilla IV was in an area just outside of downtown and some of the members sleep in the nearby shelters while others live on the streets. My recording of their singing didn't work out so well so here is a more polished performance from Youtube. Please watch, and if you can get through this without being moved than you've got a colder heart than me. :

The first installation is a replication of an experience Perfumer Simon Constantine had passing through a checkpoint in Lebanon where many Syrian refugees have tried to cross the border. The first perfume in this series is called Road to Damascus and features notes of  bitter orange and Damascus rose. The exhibit had a rocky path lined with rose bushes and orange trees. Next to it was a tent, representing a tent at the border where Constantine was invited in to have cardomom coffee, which he turned into a fragrance with the same name.

Other perfumes inspired by this trip were:
Manouche Zataar - A traditional Lebanese breakfast, this perfume reflected notes of sesame flatbread and various herbs.
Amelie Mae - Constantine made this raspberry tinged floral perfume as a tribute to his daughter.
The Secret Garden - Images of a garden based more on the perfumer's imagination than the reality of his own garden.
I'm Home - All trips end eventually. This one is a tribute to the comforting smells of home.  

Artist Hal Samples memories of his home life were not idyllic, but his happiest memories are of when his grandmother would sweep in and rescue him for a time. This inspired two perfumes, Sweet Grandma and Model. Sweet Grandma is a perfume with an old fashioned air, a tribute to the woman Samples remembers. Model, a more sophisticated scent, grew from Samples's discovery that his Grandma had an exciting life as a young woman, modeling for Vogue at one point. Here is part of the display below. You could pick up a phone and hear messages from his Grandma. We had this exact chair in our house growing up, same color and everything. Slightly creepy.

Several more fragrances were inspired by Samples' experiences.
Lamesh - An operation gone wrong left Samples with mesh inside his body which wrapped itself around organs and caused pain. A second risky operation removed the mesh, leaving Samples with a feeling of freedom. The fragrance with notes of blood and metal is just as unsettling as it sounds and walking through the installation with its grasping mesh layers was very creepy.
Blackcurrant Angel - This is a tribute to some of the homeless Samples befriended who have passed away.

One of the most interesting installations was the recreation of a water tank which played a significant part in Samples' artistic endeavors featuring the homeless. Samples met a homeless man in Los Angeles, Tachowa Covington. He took Samples to his home, an abandoned water tank which Covington had decorated in a quirky eclectic manner with cast offs, had added a floor, and even electricity through a generator. Samples was inspired and began a documentary on Covington's life but after three years of filming disaster struck. The avant garde anonymous artist Banksy stenciled the words "This looks a bit like an elephant" on the side of the tank and it was bought by an art investor, leaving Covington out on the streets and homeless once again. This inspired the perfumes Rentless and Tank Battle. 

I went to this exhibit with the idea of reviewing all the perfumes but it was simply too overwhelming and I didn't have enough skin space. Instead I decided to review the one that stood out to me, and happily its name sums up the feeling I had after viewing this inspiring exhibit. It is What Would Love Do? This scent was inspired by a woman Samples met named Janine (who would later become his wife) who had a habit of leaving inspiring notes for strangers to find, little literary acts of kindness. She put forth this bit of wisdom: When confronted with a difficult problem ask yourself, what would love do?

The photo at the top of this article is of a large board that asks the question, what would love do? Visitors have written in their own interpretations and answers to this question.  So finally, a perfume review of sorts. What Would Love Do? is a fairly simple perfume featuring tangerine, lavender, and benzoin. The tangerine opens with a bright peppy note but the lavender creeps in fairly quickly. At first the lavender is more herbal and bright but as it sits on the skin it becomes more moody and meditative with the cozy notes of benzoin entering the picture. The LUSH site describes the perfume this way, in part: "Love would wrap you in a lavender embrace and sing a lullaby of calm. Love would brighten the world with a tangerine fragrance, always ready to find the sun from behind a cloud."

To me this fragrance is a snapshot of the ideal day that everyone deserves. To wake up with bright optimism for what the day holds, to encounter love, compassion, and understanding as you go about your day, and at night to be embraced by the love of family and sleep in warm comfort.  At the end of the day there is a whiff of sweetness and a touch of lavender, like a soft pillow or a comforting kiss.

I found the message of this exhibit to be perfectly timed as we enter the month of November, a time when we think about Thanksgiving and family, and hopefully when that spills over to think of those who don't have these advantages in their life. The most touching moment of the exhibit was after the choir sang and the audience asked questions. The question was asked, "What would you like people to know about being homeless."

One well spoken woman said, "Know that we aren't all drug addicts or prostitutes. Some of us were in corporate America but bad things happened. Many Americans are only a couple of pay checks away from being where we are."

Then an older gentleman,  very soft spoken said as he teared up, "Just see us. Acknowledge that we're people too."

This exhibit succeeded as an art installation in raising awareness and using scent to appeal to all the senses to accomplish this. Well done, LUSH.

Photos my own. Sample provided by LUSH.

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