I have smelled the end of the world. And it smells like bile.
In the bright, white atrium of London’s Carroll/Fletcher gallery, I recently sniffed armageddon off the end of a cardboard strip. The perfume, called Apocalypse, is by art partners Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead and forms part of their new show, Party Booby Trap, which opened this week.
To create this fatalistic fragrance, the pair went through the Book of Revelation, plucking out every mention of a scented element: thunder, blood, rocks of the mountains, incense, wormwood, rod of iron, creatures of the sea, hail and fire, animal horns, flesh burned with fire, brimstone and, of course, a grievous sore. They then passed this somewhat unlikely shopping list on to Edinburgh-based perfumer Euan McCall to turn the 1611 King James Bible’s vision of annihilation into a “wearable scent”. That’s right, a limited-edition bottle of liquid doom can be yours for just £300 plus VAT.
Visitors to the gallery are welcome to ask staff for a sniff, while a bottle of the perfume is displayed in a specially designed velvet case within a vitrine. The work is overlooked on the other wall by 16 declarations – from figures as varied as Nostradamus to Bob Geldof – predicting the end of the world.
As someone who lost her own sense of smell for a year, following a particularly grave concussion, the experience of smelling armageddon was deeply unsettling. The initial whiff – a sort of musky, dank, almost-sexy tang – quickly gave way to something probably best described as digestive. The “creatures of the sea that have died” were there, all right. Not to mention “a great river dried up”. There was a sharp mineral blast that seemed to coat the back of my throat and stick to my fingers. Eight hours later, the smell of end times was still clinging to my coat pocket, knuckles, hair and nails like a shadow.
“Instead of using paint, we decided to do a chemical portrait of the apocalypse,” says Craighead. “The work is a wilful commodification of end times.” It certainly raises questions about our hunger for luxury in the face of climate change, war, social disintegration and environmental collapse.
To put it somewhat intestinally, Apocalypse left me with an undeniable feeling of dread, right there in my bowels. It felt like the nasal equivalent of a subsonic frequency. It was doom, in sprayable, wearable, purchasable form.
Buy now, as they say, while stocks (and our miserable lives) last.
• Party Booby Trap is at Carroll/Fletcher, W1, London until 25 May
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010