Eric Fong - Thanatos

A perfume that smells of death

A new art installation premieres at Phoenix from 10 Jan – 23 Feb, featuring Thanatos - a perfume that evokes the scent of a decomposing body discovered in a woodland.
  • New art installation premieres at Phoenix from 10 Jan – 23 Feb
  • Exhibition preview Thu 9 Jan from 6pm

A perfume that evokes the scent of a decomposing body discovered in a woodland is the unlikely subject of an exciting new art installation premiering at Leicester’s Phoenix cinema and art centre from 10th January.

The perfume Thanatos has been developed in a collaboration between artist Eric Fong, perfumer Euan McCall and forensic anthropologist Dr Anna Williams, whose research into the 400+ volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted during human decomposition underpins the installation.

The exhibition is free to attend from Friday 10th January – Sunday 23rd February, 9am – 11pm weekdays and 10am – 11pm at weekends. Further details are available at

Exhibition preview
There will be an opportunity to see the exhibition before it opens to the public, and meet the artist, on Thursday 9th January from 6pm – 8pm. Thanatos premieres at Phoenix before touring to Middlesborough in March and London in April.

About Thanatos
The multisensory installation centres on the presentation of Thanatos as both a scent and a perfume bottle ‘Thanatos – eau de mort’. The aroma of the perfume can be experienced through interaction with a sculpture modelled on an autopsy table.

The installation is accompanied by a short film evoking the intensity of searching for a cadaver in a forest, and eerie photographs of staged crime scenes taken at the Crime Scene House at the Forensic Anthropology Department at Teesside University.

Inspired by the observation that some of the decomposition VOCs are identical to natural ingredients used in commercial perfumes, Thanatos is a blend of selected VOCs plus floral and wood scents. It takes the audience on an olfactory journey from the scentscape of an open meadow to the middle of a secluded forest where a decomposing body is discovered.

Thanatos considers the bodily processes that occur after death and the advances in forensic science that help us to better understand them, including their potential for locating and investigating dead bodies.

Panel talk and workshop
There will be an opportunity to explore the forensic research which underpins the Thanatos exhibition in a free panel talk and workshop with the team behind the project at Phoenix on Saturday 1st February. Places can be reserved at the Phoenix box office or online.

About the team
Eric Fong is a multimedia artist based in London. His practice explores issues relating to the body and identity in the context of biomedicine and forensic anthropology, often informed by his past experience as a medical doctor.

Dr Anna Williams is Principal Enterprise Fellow in Forensic Anthropology, University of Huddersfield. This project builds on five years of forensic PhD research supervised by Anna, into the gaseous products of decomposition.

Euan McCall is a self-represented perfumer. His Jorum Laboratories is currently Scotland’s only fine fragrance formulation house, servicing domestic and international clients.