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Feature: Wit, scent, and memory lane tantalise in Francesca Baglione's latest work Eau de Memoire

Image: Francesca Baglione, self portrait


Artist, Director and Performer Francesca Baglione (aka Miss High Leg Kick) teases out the story behind the creation of her latest work, Eau de Memoire - coming to London's Ensemble Festival on Saturday 22 & Sunday 23 July 2023. 


Eau de Memoire celebrates the rich experiences and memories evoked by our sense of smell, recreating particular moments in time via scent and performance for an olfactory experience combining a live show with audience interaction. The show sees a very wide range of artists present individual live ‘perfumances’ with accompanying smell-along fragrances representing their memories of a place and a moment. Audiences experience Funfair 1978 (notes of candyfloss and diesel oil), Leisure Centre 1992 (damp towels and chlorine), School Dance 1988 (orange soda, lipgloss, teenage angst) and more. It’s a journey for the nose!


Eau de Memoire was inspired by my experience of parosmia - temporarily losing my own sense of smell as a result of Covid-19. My slow recovery took me down an interesting rabbit hole of research into the overlooked sense of scent. Smell is the sense most closely connected to memory and imagination and creating this show was about celebrating that and appreciating the incredible evocative power of scent. Created in the travel-restricted Covid-era, I initially saw Eau de Memoire as an opportunity for audiences to be transported to other places and other times via scent-based prompts to their imagination. It has grown into something more – a live experience in which audiences become involved in the artists’ stories about moments from their pasts through an approachable and stimulating live experience. Audiences are given a set of smell-along cards with fragrance notes and QR codes which link to the individual artists’ stories behind the smells and the ’perfumances’. 


Image: Performer Steve Nice Photographed by Francesca Baglione


My work is often about collaboration - bringing artists together to create performances which work as a whole piece but also as a celebration of individuals and their own unique approaches to a theme. For this show each member of the team collaborated with London parfumier Bloom, who painstakingly pieced together fragrances representing the constituent parts of the smell memories of the artists, combining the individual notes to produce evocations of moments and places in time – including bottling the essence of Katy Baird’s 2002 London Squat Party, Abi Cunliffe’s 1978 Barry Island Funfair, and Richard Layzell’s 1967 London Field.  All of the artists found this to be a fascinating but intense experience, transforming reminiscences into potions  - individual notes bringing back long-forgotten memories.  By the end of the sessions we all found our noses much more highly attuned to subtle differences in smells. 


Image: Performers H Plewis (R) and Francesca Baglione (L)


I was fortunate to be able to work with Director JJ Stratford and Editor Liza Cardinale on a short promotional film for the piece - inspired by the perfume ads of the 1980s – which you can see here (and below, babes). 


We are all looking forward to performing at Ensemble Festival. For Ensemble the show will star Katy Baird, Steve Nice, Abi Cunliffe, H. Plewis, Richard Layzell and Miss High Leg Kick. Previous iterations have included fragrances from Harold Offeh (Brazilian Beach 2017) and Lorna Rees (Workshop 1996).  The diverse cast also includes younger live artists Reggie Roberts (16 years old) and Luciana Hutt (12 years old) as well as Sula Plewis Robin (7 years old). We’ve found that having younger artists perform as key cast members helps the show feel approachable for all audiences, including families and children.  


It is a fun, fast-moving show which works well as an outdoor piece – everyone can engage with the idea of a smell and a memory and the perfumes always provoke a response – good or bad! 


Eau de Memoire has been supported by Without Walls (including a Blueprint R&D investment fund) and was commissioned by Brighton Festival and Stockton International Riverside Festival last year. Eau de Memoire has also been supported by Colchester Arts Centre, Duckie, Studio 3 Arts, 101 Outdoor Arts, and Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants.


Eau de Memoire

Ensemble Festival

Saturday 22 & Sunday 23 July 2023

Eau de Memoire ad from Miss High Leg Kick on Vimeo.

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