Rose Oil

Rose Oil for Body Odour


2011, art intervention in public space and gallery installation.

In this project Petko Dourmana trades rose oil for body odour. Exchanging something that is immaterial, doesn’t seem valuable and does not exhaust, for something pleasurable and precious, sounds like a good deal. Like in old times when people were exchanging goods for goods, the artists runs a stall at Broadway market and sells essential oil by the gram. His customers, however have to pay him with something very individual – their body odour – providing him with a sample of their smell, taken off their hands.

The technology is simple – the person sits on a chair with hands tucked under their thighs, palms facing down. A piece of fabric absorbs perspiration from the palms and is then put in a clean jar. Typically for a weekend market, Dourmana engages in some casual conversation. For this symbolic exchange he uses Bulgarian rose (Rosa damascena forma trigintipetala), which is known to be the source of the the finest rose oil worldwide and is highly prized in the perfume industry.

The currency he asks for sounds awkward at first, but it is does not differ much from taking a picture of somebody. In both cases it does not cost the contributor anything and all they need to do is overcome the uneasy feeling of sharing something personal.

In the gallery space he displays his collection of odours (odouroteka). To most viewers this looks just like a weird collection of a person with an absurd hobby, or maybe a pervert. But he might as well be a Bulgarian secret agent, collecting body odours through his network of cleaning ladies and prostitutes.

* The methodology of comparative odourologic research was actually developed during the cold war by KGB in the Soviet Union and widely implemented around Eastern Europe. Stasi for example managed to create a collection of hundreds of thousands of jars in DDR mainly using the technique described above (with a chair with a removable cloth on the seat). Currently only few countries are still using odourology, among them Russia, Cuba and Bulgaria. In the latter

there is an odouroteka containing thousands of smell samples. It is in the Odourologic Laboratory previously part of Bulgarian State Security and currently – of the Ministry of Interior.

Rose Oil for Body Odour was first shown as an art intervention at Broadway Market, Hackney, London (21 May 2011) and an installation within the exhibition “The Visionary Trading Project” at Guestprojects, London from 28 May to 26 June 2011.