M Dougherty

Instructions for Odor Organ:

To compose a fragrance: Choose an accord and press the numbered keys that correspond to the notes diagrammed on the wall.

M Dougherty

M Dougherty

M Dougherty (b. 1991, Los Angeles, CA) is a nonbinary, multidisciplinary artist and researcher splitting their time between Philadelphia and New York. Known for their innovative use of scent to explore the intersection of technology, humanity, and the natural world, M’s work is grounded in scientific research but is also deeply personal and introspective.

Through installations, performances, and creative technologies, M creates experiences that immerse audiences in new olfactory worlds. In their /Forest Bath installation, for example, they brought the smell of the forest to the streets of New York City during the height of the pandemic, inviting visitors to breathe in the health-benefitting scents of phytoncides and woodland materials.

Somatic Atlas, another notable work, is an aroma reference kit that invites viewers to explore the diverse and fascinating scents of the human body. With 28 scents, the kit provides a hands-on and immersive way to study and learn about the nuanced scentscapes of our bodies.

Dougherty's work is, by design, deeply thoughtful, informative and accessible. M is committed to furthering education and access to olfactory information and creation. They run workshops and give guest lectures at universities around the world. They are also on the board of directors of OSMOCOSM, a global conference on machine olfaction based at MIT in Boston.

Dougherty's work has been exhibited at museums and galleries globally, including the Olfactory Art Keller in New York City, and the François Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles.Their work is a testament to the power of scent to connect us to our surroundings, our memories, and each other.

Artist Statement

The Odor Organ is a compact device that allows individuals to play scents instead of sounds, inspired by the longstanding parallel between scent and sound, and the form of a piano. As a society, we favor sight and often ignore this rich olfactory information. Although not everyone is, humans evolved to be capable of perceiving and communicating this information. Being able to have a more acute understanding of smell will allot us a more clear understanding of our surroundings, our environment, our bodies, our health, our memory formation and recall. Scent can tell you about the genetics of those around you, the species in your local ecosystem, about disease and danger; it holds the traditions and foods of a culture. Scent is a wonderful well of information, but as a medium involving chemistry, artistry, neuroscience, perception, physiology, genetics, biology it can be a pretty intimidating field to approach.

M Dougherty is committed to use art to heighten audience’s olfactory literacy (the ability to perceive, understand, and communicate scent information to a quantifiable and trainable degree). Play provides such a fun, joyful, low friction access point into learning, specifically with complex ideas like olfaction. M harnesses this to empower others to follow their own curiosity into the world of scent .

There is a longstanding parallel between scent and sound; it is present in the temporal quality, in the subjective nature, and even in the language used to describe scent. Some common terms in scent practice: notes, accords, harmonies, perfumer’s organ. In the history of scent art, there have been a few attempts at equating musical notes to scent notes. Most famously, Septimus Piesse took the musical scale and mapped scents to each note of a piano. In 1922, artist Frank R. Paul, inspired by Piesse’s work, illustrated a theoretical "smell organ," a device which could play the scented scales but it was never actually fabricated. It did inspire other artists, and since then, there have been a few iterations of this concept, including this one.
Dougherty Odor Organ 3

M Dougherty
Odor Organ, 2023
Airpump, tabletop device, odor materials
20" x 20" x 36"

Gateways to Awareness explores the role of memory, perception and the five senses in our appreciation of art and the world around us. The artworks included in the exhibition engage the viewer in multi-sensory experiences across a variety of genres and media including disability, floral, olfactory, and sound art(s). This year-end show is a veritable tasting menu of the experimental and experiential forms of art the Museum is scheduled to present over the next two years.