The Olfactory Forest: a multisensorial installation

For the SENSE ME exhibition at the Trapholt Museum in Denmark, Studio Omer Polak has created an artificial forest to illuminate the olfactory experience. The centrepiece of the immersive installation is a selection of scented Manau rattan cane poles, which hang in a circular mirrored room complete with luminous ceiling.

In recent years, the growing concern about future ecology has led many artists to play with concepts of man-made nature. Forests are nature’s most biodiverse ecosystems and cover 31% of the surface of our planet. By providing us with fresh oxygen, forests are a precious resource for life on Earth and they have a wonderful ability to heal our body and mind.

However, humanity has come to take nature for granted resulting in pollution and climate change, as well as a rapidly decreasing global amount of forestry. Furthermore, with 65% of people living in cities by 2050 (UN), industrialisation and urbanisation have been constantly moving us into a new human landscape.

The Olfactory Forest presents a number of questions for the future of forests. What if the forests gradually disappear in the world and will become a rare natural phenomenon that masses of tourists want to see? Aside from the enormous horrific consequences for nature and the fabric of life, how will this affect our mental health? our well-being and leisure? And what are the implications for our sensory skills? Will we have to fake nature in order to sustain humanity? And if so, Will it become a place of mystery and fairytales, like the real forests used to be?

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 Symrise Labs in Germany, then carefully analysed and deconstructed to isolate each individual scent component within the various organic materials. Utilising 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.

Each unique rattan pole served as a transmitter for different scents collected within the forest. Inhaling the scent of tree bark, leaves, mushrooms, moss, damp soil and sweat of a forest mammal, the visitors perceive the whole orchestra of ‘forest smells’ as a single tone.

One of the key supporting visual measures to underline the multi-sensorial installation was the clinically white 5000K luminous ceiling, which provided a seamlessly uniform illumination of the selection of rattan poles.

Although a Barrisol solution was ruled out at the very beginning of the project due to the sheer cost of material and installation, a similar solution was able to be achieved thanks to Verseidag semi-translucent fabric, which formed the basis of the luminous ceiling.

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,” 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.” W

Photo Credit: Stefan Stark and Pujan Shakupa

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