Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hyperosmia and the Elastic Mind

Design and the Elastic Mind, MOMA, 2008. James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau, Design Interactions Dept., Royal College of Art. 

Penicillium Saprophyticus is a kind of mold that comes around in autumn, when the living tissue of the woodlands begins its seasonal decomposition. At the helm of the HMS Entropy are the roaming swarms of saprophytes that live off of dying plants. In small doses their smell can be intoxicating. The haunting smell of crushed leaves in autumn is not without a touch of this mold.

Just as the seasons, weather events bring their own aromatic indicators. The smell when it’s about to snow, river musk on now-dry floodplains after a severe summer flooding, the smell of the beach on the same floodplains after severe hurricane flooding, and plenty of mold during a mismatching of seasonal characteristics – these all announce the ever-changing and rebirthing of an ecosystem. 

Some people smell strongly of civet, some simply have evaporated cat piss all over them, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Civet, like lots of smells, is good at low doses, but bad when high, and people become desensitized over time. Many perfumes use civet, on purpose, for this reason. Many grandmothers are avoided, for the same. (Blackcurrant buds give off the same smell, and are used in perfumery.)

Furfural mercaptans are strong – coffee, cannabis, skunkpiss. They intermingle, both in molecular presence, and redintegrated perception. In a classroom, one might smell diesel exhaust, barely perceptible, somehow coming through a labyrinth of antiquated air vents.

Then there is the smell of lactose being processed in the body, on a scale from skim milk, through butter, to mozzarella cheese. Poison ivy (which I get every August) smells like something, though I cannot name it – it is the smell of my own body metabolizing urushiol.


Where Science and Design Collide, a Few Weird Sights to Behold
John Schwartz, February 26, 2008, nytimes
ART AND SCIENCE: The show “Design and the Elastic Mind,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, features items like “Smell +,” left, whose designer, James Auger, said he wanted to underscore the diminished importance the sense of smell had in our lives by creating a device that allowed people to smell each other’s bodily scents before they met.
Design and the Elastic Mind
Paola Antonelli, MoMA, 2008
James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau
Design Interactions Dept., Royal College of Art, viaMoMA

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