Somewhere in the galleries at Sprüth Magers in Berlin a cat is mewing. As you enter Pamela Rosenkranz’s new exhibition — through a portal-like room filled with a strange blue light — you won’t know it, but you’re being sprayed with a primal odour. It’s a scent that might make you feel more affectionate towards the feline species.
‘I have always liked cats and find them very beautiful. I grew up with cats, and my own cat was giving birth to her kittens under my bed – in the Lego box!’ muses artist Pamela Rosenkranz, who is rather fond of felines. ‘In terms of creating art in relation with cats the spark was lit when I learned about a parasite called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a peculiar, relatively unknown parasite, despite its widespread appearance. About one in three people carry the parasite responsible for the condition toxoplasmosis, which can lead to finding the smell of cat pheromones more attractive.’
Rosenkranz uses light to create a supernatural version of a ‘high noon blue’ that triggers sensual stimuli from the surrounding environment
It’s not the first time the Swiss artist has been inspired by this perturbing parasite — her recent exhibit at the Fondazione Prada in Milan also addressed it. In Berlin, ‘She Has No Mouth’ further develops the connections between humans and cats, wild and domesticated, through sound, colour and smell. That smell refers to ‘a cat-like smell synthesised in France, where more than half the people are infected, under the name Civetone, and it’s a prominent component in Chanel No 5’.
Civetone is now found in many household products, Rosenkranz explains, including shampoo and washing detergent, and even ‘as a flavouring agent in food’. You might not pick up the odour as you walk around the gallery, as its hard to distinguish from the perfumes and colognes of other visitors.
Rosenkranz’s olfactory work is a gradient comprised of ‘all the perfumes available that have a dominant interpretation of the cat pheromone component in them’. She explains, ‘One of these fragrances is “Obsession for Men” by Calvin Klein, which apparently the jaguar and other wild cats are so attracted to that it is used to capture and count cats in the wild.’
Dusty, earthy tones of red, pink, taupe and terracotta, as well as different renditions of fur patterns in a new series of layered paintings contribute to a sub-Saharan atmosphere, while a large rose-coloured circle of sand in the middle of the space recalls a desert plane. There is of course — as in all of Rosenkranz’s work — an offbeat sex appeal to the whole thing, from the assimilation of animal scent and perfume, sensual skin and fur motifs, consumer culture and cat aesthetics.
Just as in the animal world, the show’s effect is more intuitive, pawing at our instincts. Rosenkranz adds, ‘Our daily lives are increasingly exposed to effects that we have not much awareness of, and it’s these potentially very powerful hidden forces that I’m interested in.’