How a studio uses the senses to spur ecological dialogue in an exhibition space
Forests cover 31 per cent of the Earth’s surface – but, as the climate communicates to humans daily, the invaluable ecosystems are constantly under threat. Olfactory Forest, an audio-olfactory installation by Studio Omer Polak currently on show at Danish modern art institution Trapholt Museum as part of the exhibition Sense Me, conceptualizes what near-total deforestation would entail. The studio’s work asks a terrifying rhetorical question: In the future, will society need to fake nature in order to sustain humanity?
A circular, mirrored room in the Kolding museum postulates what that future might look like. There hang 15 Manau rattan cane poles, each which emit a different smell and sound gathered from forests by the multidisciplinary creative team. To compile the scents, organic material samples were first brought to the German Symrise Lab, then carefully analyzed to better understand every individual scent component in various organic materials. Utilizing recipes created out of a stock of over 2,000 base notes, Studio Omer Polak and Symrise’s senior perfumer Marc Vom Ende created eight different fragrances evoking tree resin, moss, damp soil, mammal sweat, mushrooms, Linden, broken wood and young green leaves.
As a wanderer smells through the space, they also hear soft sounds, playing from fifteen small speakers placed along the rattan poles. The purpose of the low volume, Omer Polak explains, is an invitation for the visitors to come closer – to sniff and hear in unison. The recordings play the audio of termites eating a log of wood, a mosquito flying and a moth flapping its wings, for example.
‘In recent years the growing concern about future ecology has led many artists to play with concepts of man-made nature,’ the designer says Polak. ‘In our project, we take on the idea of the artificial landscape, using the nose as a medium to transport the human subconscious into the forest. By unfolding this scenario together with the audience, we are putting the public’s attention on the future of sensory experience journeys in cities.’
Sense Me is on show at Trapholt Museum in Kolding until 1 June 2020.