Born and raised in Manilla in the Philippines where she received a BFA in painting, Goldie Poblador then moved to the U.S. where she obtained an MFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design. Although she now lives in New York, her work, either political or more poetic, is deeply rooted in the cultural heritage, landscapes and memories of her native country. There, the tropical climate is prone to bringing out all sorts of smells—good and bad—and when confronted to the challenge of painting memories, Goldie Poblador abandoned brushes and canvases to paint with the invisible and vaporous colors of scents.
Per fumum—through the smoke. The word itself seems to remember that the use of aromas is deeply rooted in the spiritual. Merging cultures and religious inspirations, Goldie Poblador often initiates rituals around carefully arranged altars on which sit flowers, glass sculptures, scents, and collected objects. Her work is one of meditative collages and human interactions. Whether dancing, playing music, reciting personal prose or singing to living flowers, she creates moments of contemplation and sharing. Fascinated by the Japanese incense ceremony named Kōdō, she adapted it to enter her own artistic world of ritualized objects and personal recollections. Using glass instruments and essential oils, she performed a syncretic Kōdō ceremony, telling Philippine myths instead of traditional Japanese literature.
The mythology and cosmologies of the Philippine people continuously imbue her work. The legend of the ylang-ylang flower, in particular, has become a leitmotiv in which come together her passion for flowers, her sensibility for scents and her interest in the body and femininity. “Once upon a time there was a couple of gardeners who couldn't have kids. When they asked the Gods why they were unable to conceive, they were told that they were only meant to take care of plants. After much supplications however, the Gods finally interceded, at one condition: their daughter should never be touched by a man. The girl grew up chaste, careful not be touched by any man. But one day, one of her suiters gave her a flower, their hands touched and she disappeared to become the ylang-ylang flower.” As avatars of this mythical woman, Goldie Poblador has created a series of small glass sculptures evoking a female body transforming into a carnal flower. Although these are almost abstract objects, the powerful white flower's scent and the tenderness of melted glass give them a form of elusive and vulnerable sensuality.
“The Thing to Miss Most”
Most of Goldie Poblador's work draws from memories of her life on the stifling belt of the Equator. The immersive nature of smells, she believes, allows people to step into someone's memory. Her most recent performance, entitled The Thing to Miss Most (2018), in collaboration with Indian
dancer Ankita Mishra, was built on their respective childhood memories as well as experiences as immigrants, weaving together movement, poetry and memories transcribed into metaphorical perfume recipes.
A form of nostalgia also emanates from her work as she evokes the negative changes affecting nature in her homeland. In one of her earlier projects she collected and preserved the smell of the Manilla river. “The water used to be good when I was young, she explains, but then it became really polluted. I wanted to make a scent project to state how it changed between my childhood memories and when I was 21.” The result has the butyric smell of bad eggs and rotten fish, both a literal and symbolic evocation of the polluted waters. Over time the project has grown to become a whole collection of scents, gathered or concocted from various rivers as well as from the urban landscape. Contained in delicate glass-blown bottles of various and intricate shapes resembling deep sea creatures, these olfactory snapshots bear a strong yet poetic statement.
Despite the lack of intersubjectivity in their perception, Goldie Poblador succeeds in embodying ideas and concepts into scents. Her associations of various aromas with the things they are symbolic of, is at the same time profoundly personal and immediately understandable. Her piece entitled Wasted Youth, for instance, smells like sampaguita, a Philippine flower collected, stringed and sold on the streets by destitute children. In another piece the smell of a mango on the verge of rotting evokes the opulence and decadence of Imelda Marcos, president Ferdinand Marcos' extravagant wife. And when she sought to interpret the smell of loss, she worked with a chemist to try to reproduce the smell of iron, which is only triggered by the human skin and thereby cannot exist in its absence...
On a pure sensory level, the artist is inspired by the idea of correspondences between the senses known as synesthesia. In the 19th century, perfumer Septimus Piesse invented of a gamut where each musical note was paired with a smell. Based on her own personal gamut, Goldie Poblador created various installations and performances in which she translated musical compositions into scent notes—or vice versa—often adding colors into the equation. Taking over a whole space with swirling colors and scents, her Flower Dance (2016) installation, inspired by the quiet Japanese art of floral arrangement, is composed of natural and artificial flowers presented in thin glass stems lightly hung from the white walls. Each flower has been given a new scent according to its color, confusing our perception to create a new experience, inspired by the holistic way indigenous people from the Philippines perceive the forest. Roses are blue, violets are red, and the artist, through her uncanny floriculture, deceives our mental representations. Goldie Poblador's work addresses the spirit, the emotions, the intellect, and the body in a sensual, fragile and transient way. Everything
you'll see, everything you'll smell, everything you'll feel, you won't be able to hold on to. Because, as she says, “you have to be ready to let everything go.”
© Clara Muller, 2018