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an enshrinement of smells, sights and sounds - 1990s Albuquerque, NM 

(a proposal)

Tres Flores can be adapted to a variety of institutional settings and may be augmented by a series of public programs such as film screenings, discussions, readings, music events and more. 

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Often subjected to the volatile realities of Albuquerque’s streets while internalizing the varied cultural realities entrenched in the neighborhoods and barrios across the city, Tres Flores is a novel approach to sharing a series of “memory snap-shots.”  Upon entering each room, the observer will be immersed in near-darkness for several seconds as they are confronted with a layered barrage of scents crafted to engage the olfactory bulb -- potentially triggering a scent memory. Gradually, the lighting will increase and visuals such as photos and video collage will be projected from overhead. Audio will then be introduced to further assist in re-creating the feel of these shared experiences. As the audience moves from room to room -- whether or not they grew up in Albuquerque in the ‘90s -- they will gain a new perspective of this unique time and place.

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Room 1: 

Tres Flores (3 Flowers) Hair Pomade

In the 1980s and ‘90s, Chicano Cholos often wore a particular hair product and hairnet to perfect a slicked-back style. The distinct smell of Tres Flores pomade can be detected from 20-30 feet away. Because its younger consumers were usually gang-affiliated and preyed on other gang members as well as those not associated with gang culture, the smell alone could induce a feeling of fear among teens of this era. If you were perceived as a threat, a trespasser or potential victim, things would escalate as gang members employed the vato “chirp” (whistle) or other taunts, punctuated by menacing stares and gang signage delivered rapid-fire through complex well-practiced hand-movements. At this point, some combination of robbery, violence or chase would be a typical outcome.

-Smell: Tres Flores hair dressing, Niagra starch spray, fresh undershirts and tube socks

(A smell test was completed in 6’x9’ room with samples of Tres Flores hair dressing and Niagra starch pasted to an 8.5”x11” piece of paper and pinned to a wall near a fan. Over a 3 week period, the smell remained strong.

-Visuals: Bedroom installation with handmade prison items (Rosaries, Paños, handmade gum wrapper picture frames;) Locs (Mad dog sunglasses, Hairnets, Nike Cortez, Ironing table with starched Ben Davis/Dickies.

- Video: to be projected on wall, featuring gang signs, a gang jump in, bandanas, tube socks, prison/homemade tattoos, a range of historic gang photos from 1990s Albuquerque. Watch the video here.

-Audio: Gang members taunting (“where you from ese?”), gang whistles, field recording from traffic in downtown Albuquerque, the sounds of landed punches and kicks, excerpted interview with a gang member from this era.

Southwestern Chicana Cholas predominantly wore this hair product in the late 1980s to the mid ‘90s. It helped them achieve a bump/pompadour look or -- accompanied by a tightly slicked braid or a frizzy perm -- their bangs kept the perfect shape of a roll. The overwhelming smell of Aquanet was usually accompanied by the smell of make-up and scented lotion. Like their male counterparts, violence was a central component to the chola lifestyle and as anyone who experienced this culture during this era can attest, fights between chollas were commonplace at many local schools, malls, parks and parking lots.

Room 2: 

Aquanet (Chicana Chola)

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-Smell: Aquanet, concealer/mascara/eyeliner,

(A similar smell test was done as described above, involving a mix of Aquanet, several combinations of makeup, scented lotions and cheap perfume mixed in petroleum jelly and pasted to a piece of paper. This scent also lasted a 3 week duration.)

-Visuals: Installation of ‘90s Chola’s bedroom (Hairspray, curling iron, make up, bandanas, gang paraphernalia, Paños (prison art), photos on wall, bed, dirty dickies, ironing board with iron and dickies trousers and Ben Davis zip shirts.

- Video: ‘90s Chicana hairstyles (High bangs, teased hair, slicked-back pony tail,) broken acrylic nails, gang jump-in footage, gang fight footage, glamour shot portraits, state fair photos.

-Audio: Fast talking chicana taunting, gang calls, yells at guys, recordings of girls talking about guys, gossiping, tires screeching with bottles thrown out of car playing oldies i.e. What Can I Do by Donnie Elbert

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Room 3: 

Catholic Church Mass

Many youth in New Mexico are expected to go to Catholic church. Some attend mass by choice, others are forced. This tradition -- and the expectations that one must attend  “or else” -- go back to the arrival of the Hispano conquistadors of the 16th and 17th centuries; only briefly interrupted by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when virtually all Europeans and dedicated converts to Catholicism were driven south to El Paso and beyond or summarily executed. The unequivocal smell of rose scented candles, frankincense, and myrrh are stark reminders to any young person who were pressured or forced to partake in this tradition until they were old enough to decide what, if any, religion they wanted to be a part of.

-Smell: Rose candles, frankincense and myrrh, candelabra, polished pews (A smell test was also successfully performed using burned charcoal, frankincense, myrrh, rose-scented candle wax mixed in petroleum jelly. It also held up over three weeks.)

-Visuals: Installation of Santos, red carpet, giant cross, confession booth, candle altar

-Video: Walking down middle aisle, choir singing, confession booth, candles burning, priest talking, kneeling and sitting in unison

-Audio: Catholic church organs playing, priest absolving sins, confession field recording, church choir singing, kneeling and sitting in unison

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Ideally, Tres Flores will be built to suit the exhibition space. Three rooms will be framed, drywalled and painted on site. Each room will be outfitted with a door, a smell machine, projector, AV tech, installation objects, and images. Audiences will be admitted in a controlled, timed manner, allowing for the experience to unfold. Each room will feature relevant seating. 


Tres Flores can be expanded to accommodate six rooms, or Seis Flores, funding dependent. 


The exhibition is primed for lectures, panel discussions, performances, and other public programs.

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