Artists at the Netherlands Pavilion|

Birthe Leemeijer


“By creating connections and entering unexpected relationships, I want to challenge preconceived notions and disrupt how we think about space.”

About the artist

Birthe Leemeijer searched for the essence of one of the oldest polders in the Netherlands and came up with a perfume. L’Essence de Mastenbroek triggers both memory and imagination.

The nose is an important, yet often underappreciated sensory organ. It helps us identify and better appreciate food, and warns us of dangers, like fire or poison. But it also triggers our memory on an emotional level that far surpasses what a photograph or audio recording can provoke. Scent has the power to transport us to a time and place beyond images and words.

Birthe Leemeijer Mastenbroek parfum

L’Essence de Mastenbroek (2005) is a perfume evoking Mastenbroek, a polder that dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest tracts of reclaimed land in the Netherlands. Nowadays the landscape is hemmed in by urban expansion. Artist Birthe Leemeijer decided to capture the essence of Mastenbroek before it’s too late. To help select the perfume’s ingredients she brought together a group of locals, mostly livestock farmers from families that have lived and worked in the area for centuries, and started a collaboration with perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri. L’Essence de Mastenbroek has high notes of grass and hay, fresh milk in the middle and bovine notes in the lower register.

After its introduction in 2005, the perfume was sold worldwide, attesting to an appeal that transcends local sensitivity. In 2012 Leemeijer handed over production and distribution to local residents. They installed a fountain in the foundations of an abandoned farm, where owners of an original flask can get an annual refill. For the Expo 2020, the source in Mastenbroek will be connected to Netherland Pavilion by means of an underground glass pipeline.

L’Essence de Mastenbroek is typical of Leemeijer’s work, which seeks to change our perception and experience of the natural environment. She had used scent before in Dreamscapes (2003), where she administered aromatic substances to arboretum visitors as a way of sparking their imaginations. L’Essence de Mastenbroek takes things one step further. It evokes a specific history and identity, but leaves room for other landscapes and memories.

Photo credits: Birthe Leemeijer, Lola Mooij

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