Art Licks revisits Issue 6 of its magazine (Winter 2012) and interviews Pio Abad about his contribution, 'Lair du Temps (Camel)', which took the form of a tongue-in-cheek perfume advert.
Art Licks: Can you describe the initial idea behind 'Lair du Temps (Camel)' and the process of making it?
Pio Abad: When Holly Willats (Art Licks Editor) asked me to contribute a project to the magazine, I had just started collecting these perfume bottles. I was drawn to the absurdity of the forms and what they signified to the immigrant population in East London that collected them. I thought it would be fun to produce a peel & sniff sample enclosed in the magazine, which is how people used to try out perfumes. We worked with Ken Kirton of Studio Hato on the design, who has since become a frequent collaborator of mine; we tested out ways of creating this fragrant strip of paper that we could attach to the magazine. It was a bit of trial and error working out the most effective mixture of adhesive and really horrible perfume to get it right.
Where did the camel come from & what did the perfume smell like..?
I bought the camel perfume for £5 at the Whitechapel Market and it smells exactly what you would expect a £5 bottle of perfume would smell like. A photograph of the camel perfume were shown at the Whitechapel Gallery later that year, so there ended up being a great circularity and specificity to the project.
At the time (2012), was this a helpful idea to explore for your work—had you done something like this before?
Wow, nearly 10 years ago! I remember doing this project towards the end of my MA at the Royal Academy which was an intense three years of questioning and doubt. It was great to do something fun for a change and to think about different ways of disseminating my work. It also led to meeting people that I have worked with since.
Have you continued to work with these ideas / the piece more recently?
I showed an actual camel bottle as part of an installation at the Gwangju Biennial in 2018, alongside other perfume bottles that I collected in 2011/2012 – including perfume bottle versions of the Burj al Arab and the Burj Khalifa. The installation, I think, best articulated the thinking behind collecting the objects. As a collection they present this false narrative of Middle Eastern progress through cheap perfume.
The day after the biennial opened, the—now rare—camel perfume bottle was stolen. Luckily, Holly had kept the camel perfume bottle we used for the Art Licks' project so I was able to find a replacement. It’s a great epilogue to the project and that £5 camel perfume is now more valuable than ever.
Pio Abad (b. 1983, Manila) lives and works in London. He has recently exhibited at Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai (2019); Kadist, San Francisco (2019); the 2nd Honolulu Biennial, Hawaii (2019); the 12th Gwangju Biennial (2018); Para Site, Hong Kong (2017); Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2016); 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney (2016) and EVA International Biennial, Limerick (2016). Earlier this year, Abad co-curated Life in the Margins, the first UK exhibition of Filipino American artist Pacita Abad at Spike Island, Bristol.