In the back room of A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, a scent dispenser exhales once an hour. A meandering plastic tube connects the dispenser to a six-and-a-half-gallon jug on the floor near the center of the room. The jug contains the concentrated form of a custom-formulated perfume derived from sensors that measured the carbon dioxide exhaled by the artist Amanda Turner Pohan during thirteen unique orgasms. Presenting a nearly empty room, Pohan’s exhibition The Signals Are Caressing Us is saturated with the unexpected. Laced with intimacy, the space enveloped me with its concentrations and abstractions of human desire.
The room smelled only faintly fragrant when I entered, so I guided my nose as far into the jug of eau d’orgasme as possible without my lips touching the bottle’s mouth—an act that felt as indecent as it did satisfying. Each inhalation offered a different bouquet: citrusy, then acerbic, then sweetly floral. With the work Orgasmic Exhalation Device for Body Spray #11 (2014), Pohan captures her private expressions of sexual pleasure, condenses them, and reintroduces them into a public space, taking aim at the age-old repression of women’s sexuality. Though more people speak out against this condition today, women are still expected to possess sexual desire only to please men and to preen themselves for this purpose (for example, with odorless or perfumed, hairless bodies). Pohan asserts ownership of her body and its interactions with others, a kind of ownership that few women enjoy.