Exploring emotions in the Mandala Lab at the Rubin Museum in NYC

All is not well in the world, to say the least. Humanity must triumph over the atrocities that are still happening, I can only hope sooner rather than later, with our collective efforts.

One Penn Plaza
“Citrovia” public art installation at Manhattan West

I spent the past weekend in New York City, but did not really seek out perfume—I didn’t even smell all the testers out at any given store that sold niche brands. I think I’ve gotten a bit saturated and much better at keeping my perfume FOMO at bay. Instead, my other half and I visited the Met, some (non-perfume) shops, and the Rubin Museum, which features a large collection of Himalayan art.

The Mandala Lab at the Rubin Museum is a space I had been wanting to visit since reading about it on ÇaFleureBon: one of the exhibits features 6 scents created by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. Each is based on a different artist’s inspiration, and it invites the sniffer to interact by associating our own emotions with what we smell. This explores feelings of attachment.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I couldn’t help being a little disappointed by the setup of plastic chairs in front of individual stations with touchscreens and nondescript scent dispensers. After pressing the red button to release a blast of aroma, the sniffer can select a category of emotion from a wheel on the screen and then choose one or multiple specific emotions from those listed. The screen would then show how other visitors had responded.

For the first couple of scents, I happened to pick contrary emotions to those who had played before me. Somehow I don’t think we were smelling the same thing—for the most drastic difference, the one that made me feel “peaceful” and “content” was voted as repulsive by others and turned out to be inspired by cigarette smoke. I have never been a smoker and the smell of cigarette smoke used to trigger stomachaches when I was younger, so this is certainly not a perverse scent love; I simply did not smell anything resembling cigarette smoke from that dispenser, even when I tried it again to check. The dusty aroma reminded me more of classroom chalk and old books.

Most of the scents were pretty mild, and none were offensive to my nose.

My favorite part of the Mandala Lab turned out to be the auditory exploration of anger. A series of gongs with specifications by different artists are available to be struck (while imagining our own anger) and then lowered into the water—the listener is invited to experience the dampening of the resonance and, as a bonus, to watch the ripples subside.

The main exhibitions in the Rubin Museum were richly educational as well; I learned a lot about the meanings and technical details behind the many thematic art works that represent the connected and multifaceted nature of being human and trying to live a life of goodness, although the symbolism itself appears to have inherent contradictions.

The Mandala Lab is on view until October 1, 2031.

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