Monday, 28 May 2012

The Art of Smelly Jeans

This is one of those things where you have to be there to actually take it all in.  After all, modern technology hasn't mastered sharing smells over the internet.  In most cases I'd say this is probably a blessing.

I never used to have much interest in art galleries or museums.  It wasn't really until Bill came into my life that I learned to appreciate them.  I'm happy to look at and think about a lot more things than I used to be. 

Just the term 'art' can be the source of quite a bit of dispute.  I think it should be added to the list:  religion, politics, sex, art.  I particularly remember a run back in the days when Bill and I routinely met with friends in Killingworth and did a two hour run most Sunday mornings.  Ben's wife was taking classes in art appreciation and so Ben now had opinions to express.  Bob took exception to some of the - I agree they were rather pretentious - statements made, even though Bob made no claims to an expertise about art.  He still had opinions and I thought he expressed himself eloquently. The running pace heated up along with the disagreement. It was no longer Long Slow Distance, however I learned a lot about art and running that morning. 

I look at some things put forward as art with a bit of skepticism, but if it makes me think or feel, catches and holds my attention, I generally concede that it may well be art.  Of course some things are art for some people but not for others.  There are many pieces in galleries and museums that do nothing for me, technically expert as they may be.  Others I could happily sit and admire for quite some time and return to it again and again.   

Reminds me of Quentin Crisp's observation about not doing housework: 
after about four years it doesn't get any dirtier. 
So, this particular exhibit was olfactory as well as the visual.  Viewers were invited to sniff.  Apparently this is the sort of research done when pursuing a master of philosophy.  Thirty-two people ranging from teens to middle-aged were persuaded to wear their jeans for three months without washing.  Their jeans were then 'artfully' arranged on the wall along with quotations from the subjects.  The point was to question social norms about cleanliness and to re-consider the impact of excessive washing on the environment.

In the spirit of open-mindedness I did carefully smell two pairs of stinky jeans.  With the first I could report to Bill that it smelled of denim, but also of human.  With the second I could say that it smelled of a different human.  That was all the smelling I did.  I'd achieved my mission.  It wasn't horrible, but I wouldn't say it was wonderfully pleasant either.

The experiment seemed to be aimed at our over-washing of clothes, something I stopped long ago.  My clothes go in the laundry basket if they have a stain or fail a sniff test; otherwise they go back in the closet.   I do this in the name of frugality as well as saving time, effort and the environment.

Something the researcher didn't mention that I recall is that this experiment also seemed to encourage the wearing of a uniform.  The jeans wearers remarked that they didn't have to figure out what to wear.  Most of us who grew up living in jeans in our teens would have already known that.  Finally, there seemed to be some idea that grew around having more affinity with one's jeans once they were well and truly saturated with one's own smell.  Not sure I want to go that far myself. 

I thought I did really good just having a couple of sniffs...


Beryl said...

Good job sniffing the jeans - I know I would not have. I love the wisdom of Quentin Crisp. You're the first person I've seen mention him in years. There was a movie about him that I could never catch. I should check Netflix for it.
My children are part of that age culture where they are many people who never wash their jeans as a fashion thing. (I never considered that it might be a conservation thing or an excuse for not going to the laundromat.) They have given me lists the the ways jeans become less desirable with each washing, some of them quite persuasive. When you get a pair that fit perfectly and is just the right color, why would you want to destroy that with water?

BigLittleWolf said...

Interesting... Personally, I love art museums (and galleries). My preference is modern and contemporary art, but I enjoy other things as well.

Sniffing jeans?

Huh. I suppose it achieved its purpose. Then again, I'd say that's a sensual experience I might pass on... even if it did offer an environmental message.

Rick Stone said...

Not washing jeans? I can remember a time when you did not wear Levi's until they had been washed several times. Wearing "new" jeans was a fashion no-no. So, when we got new Levi's we insisted Mom run them through the washer several times before we would wear them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wonder if you noticed an aroma when you first came into the room. I wash my jeans too frequently--after a couple of wears, while my husband (who does his own laundry) will often wear the same pair for a couple of weeks. I did a post on this sometime last year and was astounded to learn that many of my readers thought that too frequent washing was a no-no with jeans.

Anonymous said...

You are quite adventuresome - I am not certain whether I'd have the nerve to take a whiff of someone else's clothes, as I am rather compulsive about cleanliness.

This reminds me of something my father shared with me: young men in the 1950s went to great lengths avoiding washing their dungarees, as the ideal condition for the garment was stiff and the darkest indigo possible.