An Olfactory Map of Sydney (2017)

An Olfactory Map of Sydney (2017) by Dawn-joy Leong.

(Video editing by Theodore Michael Eu.)

An Olfactory Map of Sydney (2017) is a whimsical video-monologue about hypersensorial journeys across Sydney on public buses. For those with sensory acuity, traversing the city by bus is an arduous undertaking of laborious planning, vigorous fortitude, determined mental-proprioceptive focus, and a liberal dash of derring-do.

The intrepid traveller is trapped inside a rattling, bouncing, roaring metal crate on wheels hurtling through time and space, as human bodies coming and going fill the confined space with myriad layers of gyrating, contorted sensory impositions. Revving engines. Sudden blasts of horns. Staccato chatter. Thick, copious vibrations reverberate through the body, as the skin begins to itch and tingle from the coarse fabric of the seats. Handrails feel tacky with layers of grease left behind by countless unknown palms. Smells waft in and out – strange comestibles, malodorous eructations, acrid perspiration, rancid clothes, yesterday’s dinner swaddled in today’s perfume – nauseating, suffocating, as sensory-anxiety rises in an orchestral crescendo-stretto.

Oftentimes, a half hour journey unfolds into a truncated, fragmented and costly series of starts and stops: getting off the bus for a breather, becoming lost inside the engulfment, struggling with moments of abject despair, re-orientating, finding a quiet space to recalibrate and recuperate, and then either continuing valiantly onwards, or hailing a taxi as a desperate cadence to a fraught expedition. An Olfactory Map of Sydney (2017) unpacks the complex tensions of public transportation, with a focus on olfactory dissonance, while playfully creating a ‘map’ of smells peculiar to the routes travelled.

An Olfactory Map of Sydney (2017) is part of the exhibition Neurodiverse-city, presented by The BIG Anxiety festival 2017, at the Customs House, Sydney. Opens 20 September 2017.

Funding credits: City of Sydney cultural and creative grant, and National Institute for Experimental Arts, Australia.


Artist bios:


Dawn-joy Leong’s research and praxis presents autism as parallel embodiment. With sensory-cognitive idiosyncrasy as the focus, she creates immersive mind-body experiences via music, visual art, video, photography, narrative, poetry and performance. Dawn-joy has an MPhil in music composition from the University of Hong Kong, and a PhD from UNSW Art & Design. She has published, exhibited and performed in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Theodore Michael Eu is a multi-media artist whose growing body of work includes videography, video editing and photography. Recent projects include Gilles Massot’s “Love Hurts”, and Urich Lau’s Singapore Biennale installation “The End of Art Report”. Theodore holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in digital media from LaSalle, Singapore.

Theodore was once a student of Dawn-joy’s. Friends for many years, both artists are autistic. This is their first public collaboration.



The videos: