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Tvergastein Issue 14: The Arts and the Environment. Image by cChange

 

[OSLO]—Dr. Karen O’Brien and Nicole Schafenacker, editors of the cli-fi anthology “Our Entangled Future” write about the book in the Oslo-based journal, Tvergastein, for Issue #14, Art & Environment! “Can climate fiction help us engage with a new paradigm for social change?”. Read the issue for free here.

p. 82
For example, author and artist Catherine Sarah Young describes her approach to The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store as follows: “I use the abstract yet scientific relationship between scent and memory as a way for humans to redefine their relationship between scent and memory as a way for humans to redefine their relationship with nature through remembering their personal histories and reinforcing their identities, which can facilitate quantum social change.”

p. 82-83
The stories in Our Entangled Future explore characters who connect with reality through non-linear time, collective consciousness, and multi species sentience….Emilia, the main character in Young’s short story, The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, is a perfumer with a keen sense of smell — which is, in fact, considered by some biologists to be an example fo a quantum phenomenon (McFadden and Al-Khalili 2016). Her sense of smell provides her with important information when she meets a trespassing strange — a hulk of a man who could easily overpower her: “She sniffed the air and smelled his fear”. Together, these short stories suggest that we are entangled through our senses, experiences, and consciousness. .

Thanks, guys! Virtual hugs from Sydney!

 

Reading Circle 4 by studio das weisse haus curated by Malou Solfjeld. Image by studio das weisse haus.

 

[VIENNA]—Our friends from studio das weisse haus have created a weekly reading circle curated by the wonderful Malou Solfjeld! I read an excerpt from my story, The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store from the anthology, Our Entangled Future. Thanks for having me!  Listen to it here.

Readers this week (text by Malou Solfjeld)

Åse Versto Langesæter reads
“Der bor en ung pige i mig som ikke vil dø”, written by Tove Ditlevesen
“Ensomhedens have”, written by Inger Christensen
“Coming to Writing” and Other Essays, written by Hélèn Cixous
First we’re reading about the journey back in time to one’s younger self, learning how to use the poem as a mirror of self-reflection, expectations and realizations.

Mie Hybschmann reads “Momo and the time thieves”, written by Michael Ende
Secondly we travel along the journey of the moon as a magic mirror one can use in times where we’re really longing to see someone that we can’t be with.

Catherine Sarah Young reads “The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store”, written by Catherine Sarah Young

Jeremy John reads “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad”, written by George Orwell
Then we question the nature of memories through smells and sounds of the past or the future – with a particular focus on longing for spring to come after a winter that appears endless.

Florian Conrad Eybesfeld reads
“Anywhere out of this world”, written by Charles Baudelaire
Our fifth reading takes us into the deepest part of our soul, all the way to the place where it really hurts. And from here we learn how connecting with pain can be healing, through the power of poetry, imagination and in memory of loved and lost ones. .

Maxime Grausam and Philipp Krummel read
Pippi in the South Seas, written by Astrid Lindgren
Finally we travel to the south seas with the strongest girl in the world, who reminds us of homeschooling and the value of playing with our friends.

https://soundcloud.com/dasweissehaus/reading-circle-04

#readingcontinuesathome

This November I find myself in Seoul for the Bio-Art Seoul 2015 Conference. It’s great to be back here in Korea, which is turning into a yearly homecoming of a sort. Annyunghaseyo!

For my bit in the show, I presented the second volume of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store. There were eight new scents I debuted here. The line was called “A Walk Home” and it was based on the scents of my childhood in the Philippines. These olfactory memories were especially potent when I moved to Manila last year after ten years of being away.

 

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store: A Walk Home has these eight scents: Recess, A Chinese Apothecary, Time with My Mom, Swimming Lessons, Wild Grass, Manila Sunsets, Carnival, and Moments of Solitude.

Oh you kids. <3

Oh you kids. ❤

During the exhibition, it was fun to see families smell the perfumes. My favorite part was when I saw the little kids trying them on, especially the really small ones who had to tiptoe to reach the bottles. It was so cute when one group of little boys gathered around, each taking a bottle, and sprayed it on himself. (I pity the ones who got the perfumes marked “Recess” and “A Chinese Apothecary”.)

kids

Some of my favorite target audience.

 

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

And now, a cathartic release by writing about an embarrassing moment. It was the exhibition opening, and man, I was so excited to do my first Korean ribbon cutting—complete with the white gloves and golden scissors, yo! I was nervous to cut it in advance like I’ve seen people do when what I should have been worried about was not catching the darn things after you snip them.

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

I’m the sad chick second from left with the pile of ribbons on the floor. Sigh. No one ever tells me these things. Hmph.

Epic fail.

“Oh sh*t” was the first thought that entered my head. Epic fail.

For the record, I still think it’s a lot cooler to let everything dramatically fall to the floor. Hello. It’s a grand opening. Just kidding.

Artist Talk: Wet Media Conference

In Sogang University’s Department Art and Technology, artists (including yours truly) gave talks on their work. My talk, entitled “Living SciFi: Bio-Art and our Futures” drew on my journey through science, art, and design, ending with the show at the Institute for the Future and what I’ve learned here so far.

It was also great to meet some bio-artists. Personally, I identify more with the terms “conceptual artist” and “sci-art” since I currently work with so many different fields of sciences and haven’t stuck to just one, so it was great to learn from these guys, especially those whose work I’ve heard so much about. Mad props to Anna Dumitriu, Vicky Isley and Paul Smith of boredomresearch, Sonja Baeumel, Roberta Trentin, etc. It was cool to meet you guys!

Workshop: Making Smells of Perfumes

You know I'm in Korea when I'm doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

You know I’m in Korea when I’m doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

A week after the opening, I also did a perfumery workshop with some high school and university students in Korea. There was a group of biology students that were accompanied by their teacher. In the beginning, the students participated in my olfactory memory experiment where they were given mystery smells and then were asked to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

Later, I asked them to do a Smell Walk and gather objects from nature that they want to make a perfume of. We distilled essential oils and also used some from my own collection of essential oils. It was exciting as one distillation flask caught fire (the kids put it out in time and no one was hurt).

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

 

The haul from the Smell Walk

The haul from the Smell Walk

 

Gathering fragrant things in nature

Gathering fragrant things in nature

 

Mashing things up for distillation

Mashing things up for distillation

 

A simple DIY distillation set-up

A simple DIY distillation set-up

 

Whattup, Korea!

Whattup, Korea!

I loved that one of the museum staff participated and insisted on making a banana-flavored perfume. He was a fun student. For the record, I insisted that he tuck his tie so it wouldn’t catch fire.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

After the distillation, I also got them to create perfumes using the commercial essential oils I have in my personal collection.

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

SAMSUNG CSC

Making perfumes

 

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

I gave them Apocalypse Project Commander badges as a reward for all their hard work. Thanks, guys!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Aaaannnd that’s officially it for me for 2015. No more exhibitions, talks, workshops, interviews, etc. for the rest of the year. I’ll be in Seoul until November 29th reflecting on the year that was and what to do next. You know I’m not a big fan of this part. A bit of Korean hiking should knock me to my senses. Are you in town? Come join me!

Many thanks to Bio-Art Seoul 2015, Biocon, Seoulin Bioscience Co., and Digital Art Weeks International. Thank you especially to Dr. Sunghoon Kim and Helen Kwak!

 

 

Walking around the Singapore Botanic Gardens, I come across the Evolution Garden, which simulates the evolutionary story of plants on earth before mankind ever came to be. It’s hard not to think of the apocalypse here. Half an hour before, I just squeezed through the MRT crowds. It feels odd to be suddenly alone. I was struck by how different it smells compared to the city and the rest of the gardens. It smells of rain and moss. There is a dampness in the air, but it does not feel heavy. It feels like an island washed after a heavy storm, like a tiny planet that went through a car wash.

DSC08620

The Evolution Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

I wonder about how the end of the world will smell like, once human activity has pushed it too much. Does it smell like something just washed, or something burning? Is it a “unpleasant” smell? Perhaps there is more than one smell—an olfactory palette that signifies a climate change apocalypse? Can a man with a cold smell it, or just the most sensitive of trained dogs? Will there be a range of scent—are we dead, or almost dead? Will we have an apocalyptic nose?

Strange questions, but among the many I’m asking here on this side of the world.

 

One afternoon, I accidentally got off the wrong floor of my East Village apartment. Each floor in the building looked exactly the same, and yet, for some reason, I felt that something was amiss. Wait, it smells different, I thought.

Smell, the most underestimated and underappreciated of our senses, is everywhere. In Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent, he tells the story of a woman to whom everything smelled vile. The condition, cacosmia, kept her indoors for years, until a doctor diagnosed her to have a form of epilepsy that was interfering with her olfactory bulb. Once given the proper medication, the woman could recall the specific moment when her sense of smell started to become normal. The room she was in started to change in perspective, as though it were moving. It seems that smell affects our sense of space.

Curiously, things that we may not immediately attribute smells actually give off odors. Here are some examples:

1. Rain

Can you smell when a storm is coming?

You know when you (or animals) can “smell” that rain might come? Well, it turns out that you’re not imagining it. Rain does give off a smell; three of them, in fact. These are ozone, petrichor, and damp earth, according to Daisy Yuhas of Scientific American.

(HT @sciam)

2. Space

Space can remind astronauts of steak, metal and welding fumes, among other things.

Perhaps “ordinary” isn’t the word I would use for space, but it’s quite fascinating that something that primarily awes us visually can also smell otherworldly. Megan Garber of The Atlantic reports that astronauts describe the smell of space in various ways, such as “seared steak,” “hot metal,” and “welding fumes.”

3. Tumors

Dogs as cancer detectors

Dogs, whose sense of smell is 100,000 times more sensitive than that of humans. Last year, German researchers reported that dogs can detect the smell of cancer, specifically lung cancer. When cells start to mutate because of the disease, they give off volatile odors that dogs can detect.

Hacking into olfaction

Scientists are increasingly finding ways to elucidate the complex process of olfaction. In 2010, Harvard scientists engineered mice that were capable of “smelling light.” The same year, German scientists also engineered flies that were capable of perceiving light for unpleasant smells.

In the wonderful If There Ever Was: A Book of Extinct and Impossible Smells, Robert Blackson commissioned some of the “finest noses in fragrance production” to design accords of things that were absent. For instance, smells of Hiroshima (inspired by the vibration of the atomic blast), surrender (as manifested through incense, which was burned as an indication of defeat in ancient Egypt), the space station Mir, and the sun, become blank pages of olfactory fascination. One of my favorite smell artists, Sissel Tolaas, created the scent of communism.

If There Ever Was: A Book of Extinct and Impossible Smells by Robert Blackson. Image via Amazon.uk

Currently, I think smell is, for lack of a better word, “trending” in design. Consider Tolaas’ work in MoMA’s Talk to Me exhibition last year, the delightful Olly by Mint Digital, or the slew of smell sensors that are or will be available on the market. And not a moment too soon for one of our most visceral and powerful senses. Blackson writes:

“Smell is an unlikely subject in the aesthetic discourse of contemporary art. The tendency to exclude our sense of smell from philosophical and art historical discussions began in the Age of Enlightenment. It was then that philosophers such as Kant and Descartes argued for the power of vision over our ‘lesser’ senses. These thoughts were further reflected in scientific advancements such as Louis Pasteur’s breakthrough that germs rather than miasma (foul stenches) were the carriers of disease.”

Thanks to designer Nikki Sylianteng who lent me this awesome book.