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Culture², a Toronto-based organization, is hosting their first online conference on community science, creative biology, and ancestral knowledge this Aug 28 + 29, 2021. I’m excited to be one of their speakers. Get your ticket here and see you there! 

This August 28th + 29th, 2021 we invite you to join us for our first conference where farmers, community activists, climate educators, artists, and practitioners will be sharing their wisdom in relation to the pillars of community science, creative biology, and ancestral knowledge.

Image: Culture²

Update: Video up on Vimeo here.

Thank you for having me!

I’m really happy to have contributed an essay to the #Healing edition of the New Alphabet School of one of my favorite cultural institutions, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. I collaborated with colleagues I met during (Un-)Learning Place in 2019 in Berlin, which kicked off HKW’s long-term project The New Alphabet. 

The Healing edition in Dakar and Berlin focuses on afro-diasporic spiritual or folk healing practices, lay movements for recovery to generate ideas and media that may have transformative potential. My essay involves my current research and art practice around petrichor (the scent of wet earth when it rains) and how it brought me to Australia. Dankeschön to Olga Schubert, Elisabeth Krämer, Alessandra Pomarico, Esther Poppe, and Maya V. El Zanaty.

It’s a gift to still be able to contribute despite these lockdowns; sending you all a hello from Sydney!

Read the essay here.

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.