Peter De Cupere designs a unique smell installation in Texture

Design: Peter De Cupere

Advice: Flax company Mommerency Gebrs, Ingelmunster

In Texture, the new museum of Flax and river Lys, one element was missing: the scent of retting. Those who grew up among flax know that the entire region of Kortrijk was filled with a distinctive scent during the retting season in the summer months: the perfume of the river Lys. Some believe it is the smell of prosperity, for others it is an unbearable stench. 

But what exactly is retting? It is a delicate process during which bacteria affect the flax. This happens in water of 30° C. The natural glue or pectin in the flax stems dissolves and the fibres are released from the woody flax bark. Until World War II, the flax retting occurred in large wooden tanks in the river Lys. During the season, hundreds of flax workers went to the river daily to do the job. During the peak periods of flax processing, thousands of retting tanks lay next to one another in the water. After the year 1943, the same process went on in the many retteries of the flax region.

Retting flax was not an odourless process. When the flax was soaked, a scent was released that, when blown away with the wind, could often be smelled as far away as in Ghent. The specific, penetrating retting odour is part of the collective memory of the region.

The perfume of the river Lys was an ideal starting point for Peter De Cupere, the man who turned scent into his artistic theme, which fits perfectly with his motto: "smelling better is seeing better". He designs poetic smell installations, paints with scent, creates olfactory objects, paintings, sculptures and multimedia designs. With images or sculptures and scent, De Cupere creates a complete experience that turns the spectator into a participant. Someone who experiences a work of art with more than just one sense.

In the Leie room, the unique smell installation by Peter De Cupere is displayed. Texture invites you to come and take a look and have a smell. Excite your own sense of smell and sniff a dash of nostalgia to scents gone by. What story does the scent awaken in you?