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Iris McCloughan

Iris is a writer, artist, and performer in New York. They are the author of several poetry chapbooks, most recently Triptych (2022, Greying Ghost). Their writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Jubilat, and Denver Quarterly, among others.

Iris McCloughan's Articles


Installation view of “RE_________” at the ICA Philadelphia. (Courtesy the ICA)

At the ICA Philadelphia, Sissel Tolaas Presents Smell as a Poetic Provocation

Walking into the cavernous first-floor gallery of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia—where “RE_________,” an exhibition by the Norwegian-born, Berlin-based artist Sissel Tolaas is currently on view (through Dec. 30)—feels like stepping into a scientist’s laboratory, if the scientist it belonged to had also studied minimal sculpture. There’s a wall of small vials printed with the artist’s name, each containing a bit of clear liquid. Plastic tubes and metal piping run high along the gallery, carrying who knows what to who knows where. Others descend from the ceiling towards concrete reservoirs that have been raised from the floor. One of them is disgorging, drop by drop, a bit of unknown liquid. In the center of the room, an assembly of large flasks, some of which are bubbling, releasing visible vapor into the air, surrounds a huge pillar. Beyond it is a long, multilevel plinth covered in small objects; in the center of the floor, an assemblage of glass sculptures, seemingly empty.

A view of Auster’s performance “Sound Mo(ve)ments.” (Photo: Destiny Mata)

Sara Auster’s Sound Baths Are a Tonic for Our Tumultuous Times

Experiencing true silence is probably impossible. The closest I’ve come is perhaps my 30 minutes inside Doug Wheeler’s “PSAD Synthetic Desert III” (1971), an installation presented at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2017 that gave visitors an experience of near-soundlessness. Stepping into that carefully designed chamber at the apex of the museum’s rotunda, the air felt thick and flat, like everything had suddenly been smothered under a heavy velvet curtain. It was so silent that, after a moment, I could hear the sound of my own blood pumping. I was suddenly aware of my body in a new way. The sound of it maintaining itself was coming through a different kind of physical channel than the regular, everyday hearing I was used to. This produced a simple, but lasting revelation: Hearing, as a perceptual act, is a physical phenomenon.

A view of the “Slow Show” performance. (Photo: Anne-Sylvie Bonnet)

With “Slow Show,” Choreographer Dimitri Chamblas Emphasizes the Mysterious Power of Slow Movement

What gives a physical movement meaning? There are myriad answers: context, shape, intention. For internationally renowned dancer, choreographer, educator, and creative director Dimitri Chamblas, there’s another, primary answer: speed. “If I go to shake your hand, you would understand because of the movement, but also because of the speed of it. If I do it super fast, it’s an offense. If I do it super slow, you won’t understand where I am going. The identity of the movement is given by the speed of it.”

Courtesy Aedes de Venustas

A New Perfume Translates the Greek Island of Corfu Through Kumquat

Growing up in the Midwest, I wasn’t exposed to the widest range of foods. True to the Scandinavian heritage and harsh winters of the region, I remember a hearty, meat-and-starch focused cuisine, one meant to warm and sustain through the cold and dark. As I got older, I started expanding my palate, and I can remember many firsts: my first pho, my first dosa, my first doro wat. But out of all these first experiences of more far-flung tastes and flavors, none stands out in my memory as sharply as my first kumquat.

Courtesy Olivia Sammons

A New Zine Highlights the Poetry and Beauty of Food

Each of us has our own individual way of following the changing of the seasons, a private choreography in relationship to the calendar. For interior designer and prop stylist Olivia Sammons, the produce available from the farms, orchards, and markets near her family’s Hudson Valley home marks time for her, leading her forward through the year. “I spend so much time thinking about food,” she says. “What I’m going to eat, where I’m going to find it, which orchard has the best blueberries.” This focus led her to create the new zine Is My Favorite Flavor, which just launched its first issue, appropriately titled Summer! Is My Favorite Flavor, at the design-focused Head Hi bookshop and café in Brooklyn.

Photo: John C. Hawthorne. Courtesy Alex Tatarsky.

Alex Tatarsky on Art as a Means to Live Out the Absurd

It’s late August, and I’m walking on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan. It’s one of those summer evenings that’s cooler than expected, a pleasant foreshadowing of fall. I’m on my way to discuss compost with the artist Alex Tatarsky, and as I head east from the subway, I pass through the dense, networked scents of the edge of Chinatown: the briny tang of fish markets, the sweet snatch of a fresh egg waffle from a rolled ice cream shop, the yeasty cloud that floats around the famous bialy shop. Approaching Abrons Art Center, where Tatarsky is doing pick-up rehearsals for an out-of-town run of their show Dirt Trip, this close-packed olfactory landscape opens up into something with more space: a faint vegetal whiff from a small vacant lot, the not unpleasant chemical tang from a passing truck, and beyond these, the smell of a certain rot rolling in from the East River.

Courtesy Acqua di Parma

A New Magnolia-Scented Fragrance Invites the Promise of Springtime Year-Round

A blooming magnolia tree, decked out in its distinctive, cup-shaped flowers, is one of the most welcome and fragrant signs of spring in New York City. In my part of Brooklyn, I have a mental map of where to find magnolias—there are a surprising number of them—and for the few weeks they’re in bloom, I take my dog on longer walks than usual, passing by as many as possible to savor both their blowsy beauty and resplendent scent. Clean, sweet, and creamy, the smell of magnolias seems to carry within it the promise of warmer months ahead.

Installation view of Christine Sun Kim’s “Time Owes Me Rest Again.” (Photo: Hai Zhang. Courtesy the Queens Museum.)

A Sound Artist Exposes the Complex Relationship Between Deaf and Hearing Cultures

At first glance, the term “deaf sound artist” might seem an oxymoron. The Berlin-based, Korean-American artist Christine Sun Kim wants to uproot that assumption. Over the past decade, Kim has created a multidisciplinary body of work that investigates the complex, and often confrontational, relationship between Deaf culture and hearing culture. Her 2013 performance “Face Opera II,” for example, features an all-deaf cast but no signing, upending the expectations of hearing viewers. For her recent project “Captioning the City,” Kim installed large-scale descriptions of various noises across Manchester, England, urging viewers to reconsider how sound is experienced in an urban space. Across disciplines, Kim has sought to expand our understanding of both sound and communication, and to make visible the often overlooked labor that deaf people undertake to engage with the hearing.

A bottle of Frank August bourbon

A New Bourbon Brand Spices Up the Quintessentially American Spirit

The history of bourbon is an ambery fog of competing local legends. Depending on what Kentucky county you’re in, you’ll get a different claim as to who invented it. Despite its murky origins, though, what has always remained clear is that bourbon is a quintessentially American spirit. (In fact, in order to legally be sold as bourbon in the United States, a whiskey must have been made in the country; purists argue bourbon must hail from Kentucky specifically.)

Perfume samples at The Institute for Art and Olfaction. (Courtesy The Institute for Art and Olfaction)

Nuri McBride Paves the Way for Broader Understandings of the Crafts and Cultures of Scent

For many, perfume provides a layer of color, texture, or inflection on top of our daily lives. The addition of scent can complete an outfit, project an image, or boost confidence. It can even serve as an olfactory form of protection. But for some people, scent offers something more. It can be seen as a container for culture and society—a portal into thinking about the world, and our experiences of it, in a new way. The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO), a decade-old Los Angeles–based nonprofit founded by Saskia Wilson-Brown, has become a magnet for people who think about perfume in exactly this way. “Devoted to access, education, and experimentation with scent,” the institute hosts workshops, classes, and lectures around the craft and culture of perfume.

Moya Andrews. (Courtesy Indiana Public Media)

An Enchanting Short-Form Podcast That Gets to the Root of Gardening

The search for a quality podcast can seem like looking for a diamond in the rough. But in the ever-growing expanse of true-crime stories and aimless chit-chat, there are outlier shows that adhere to more timeless, singular aims. Focus on Flowers, a weekly gardening podcast and public radio program hosted by veteran gardener Moya Andrews, is one of them.

Theaster Gates’s “Black Chapel,” the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens. (Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy Serpentine and Theaster Gates Studio)

For Black Communities, These Gardens Double as Sites of Healing

For time immemorial gardens have served as spaces for rest, reflection, and communion with the natural world. But in today’s political climate, with its heightened confrontations of longstanding structural and historical inequality and racism, some gardens—created by and for Black communities—are now serving another, even more necessary and vital purpose: as valuable, active hubs for addressing certain imbalances and injustices, connecting with neighbors, and fostering community. As garden designer and landscape ethicist Benjamin Vogt has written, “Ultimately, every garden is an ideology.”

Sarah Socia. (Courtesy OVR Technology)

The Real-Life Benefits of Augmenting the Metaverse With Scents

Across many industries, people are preparing for a seismic shift as the metaverse coalesces with everyday life. While the transition can conjure up a range of emotions, these unified and all-encompassing worlds, experienced through various augmented and virtual realities, present ample opportunities to develop tools for humans to interface with this new technological and cultural frontier.

Courtesy Parfum d’Empire

How a Spidery Weed Spawned This Sweet-Smelling Perfume

Think about the scent of your favorite fragrance. Chances are, it’s a variation on a long-established olfactory concoction. These archetypes represent a satisfying scented harmony that can withstand the test of time. Their ingredients are familiar: regal rose, heady jasmine, effervescent citrus. Prized in the perfume world, these well-known elixirs have spawned vast networks dedicated to cultivating and collecting them for use in perfumery. But not far from most of the scent industry's carefully-tended landscapes, a different kind of plant grows: the overlooked yet tenacious weed. French perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato sees the shrubs as far from inferior or undesirable—particularly the inula, a common weed in his native Corsica, the mountainous Mediterranean island. “In French, weeds are called mauvaises herbes, or bad herbs,” he said in a statement. “I think it’s unfair, because they are bountiful and have many healthful properties. I’ve never had the heart to pull out the wild inula that grows in my garden.” The weed served as the impetus for  Mal-Aimé, a scent he created for his fragrance house Parfum d’Empire. In Corticchiato’s deft hands, the plant, which sprouts clumps of small, hairy yellow flowerheads–produces a startling and expansive green note—one reminiscent of more classic perfume elements, but with a character all its own. Lightly floral, the inula note has a rose-like quality, but with a touch of honeyed sweetness. While built around this distinctive aroma, Mal-Aimé extends its aromatic reach to include other elements of the weed’s humble context. Saline and woody notes swirl around the composition, creating the impression of a wild Corsican hillside near the sea. A prominent nettle note lends a dry and medicinal quality, while orris root forms a dusty, earthy base. Taken as a whole, the composition presents a fascinating and complex bouquet that marries classic French perfumery to a surprising and iconoclastic olfactory palette. For Corticchiato, Mal-Aimé functions not only as an exploration of an under-explored ingredient, but also as a salute to his late companion, Lucien Acquarone, who loved its scent. (Acquarone’s sons, Stéphane and Alexandre, distilled the inula oil used in the fragrance.) A talented engineer who focused on botanical extraction equipment, continuously developing new and better ways of extracting essential oils from plants in order to highlight the best of their fragrances, Acquarone had long discussed making a perfume built around inula with Corticchiato, but passed away before the project was realized. In Mal-Aimé, Corticchiato has made a heartfelt tribute to both an unsung botanical scent and a dear friend.

Professor John Crimaldi using lasers to render odor plumes visible. (Courtesy John Crimaldi)

The Fascinating Significance of Understanding How Animals Detect Odors

How might society benefit from understanding the ways in which the brain processes smell? John Crimaldi, a professor in civil, environmental, and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who leads the Ecological Fluid Dynamics Lab, has more than a few answers. Getting clarity around brain function, he says, could lead to breakthroughs in a wide range of topics, from neurological disorders to artificial intelligence.

Perfumer Yosh Han

A San Francisco Perfumer’s Campaign to Decolonize Scent

San Francisco–based perfumer Yosh Han is sense-driven. In addition to her own perfume line, Yosh, she is a sommelier, has served as a tasting judge in chocolate competitions, and even runs a thriving aura-reading practice. Throughout her nearly three decades in the fragrance industry, Han has traveled the world, deepening her knowledge of scented materials and their sources.

An “Olfactory Labyrinth” by Maki Ueda

“Olfactory Labyrinths” That Zero In on the Remarkable Act of Smelling

Walking through a museum, you’ll likely consume most artworks using your eyes. Enjoying the output of olfactory artist Maki Ueda, who uses scent as her primary medium, however, requires your nose⁠—and sometimes takes place in spaces with no visual stimulation whatsoever. Ueda, who is based in Okinawa and Tokyo, intentionally minimizes the influence of other senses as a way of helping viewers pay more attention to the remarkable act of smelling, and its deep connections with movement and space.

The Castor Kids Chair, by Karimoku. (Courtesy Nalata Nalata)

Skillfully Handcrafted Chairs, Designed with Toddlers in Mind

If you look around your living space, there’s a good chance that all the furniture in it is designed for adult use and comfort. This is fine, of course, if you’re an adult. But not all people can easily use full-size household objects. With the youngest of those in mind, the New York–based design gallery Nalata Nalata’s upcoming exhibition, “Starter Chair” (May 14–22),  celebrates furniture that was lovingly made on a different scale—one specifically for children.

Neil Chapman. (Courtesy Neil Chapman)

What Makes a Perfume a Masterpiece, According to a Veteran Scent Blogger

Scents are among the most powerful, and the most personal, sensory triggers. Because the olfactory nerve connects directly to areas of the brain that are responsible for processing memory and emotion, aromas activate our individual constellation of associations. Neil Chapman, author of the 2019 book Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent, deeply understands the connections between smells and feelings. A driven, self-taught student of fragrance and its history since childhood who describes scent as “the soundtrack of his life,” Chapman has carved out a distinct niche in the landscape of perfume writing. On his 10-year-old blog, The Black Narcissus—a captivating combination of technical and historical analysis of scents, pop cultural musings, and personal memoir—he illuminates the myriad facets of scent and its powers, revealing his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject along the way.

An artwork from Luiza Gottschalk’s exhibition, “Glade: To Touch Painting,” at Olfactory Art Keller. (Photo: Andreas Keller)

In Manhattan’s Chinatown, a Gallery Invites Visitors to Sniff Its Art

Tucked between a seafood market and a dumpling shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a small storefront showcases a suite of expressionist oil paintings. Appreciated from the street, the pieces hover elegantly between representation and abstraction, their brushstrokes both cohering into and resisting recognizable forms. But these swirls of shapes and colors are only part of the works. For the complete experience, you must enter the space, touch the paintings, bring your nose to their surfaces, and inhale. This is how viewers are encouraged to engage with the art in “Glade: To Touch Painting” (through April 30), an exhibition of scented paintings by Brazilian artist Luiza Gottschalk, currently on view at the gallery Olfactory Art Keller.

Sagmeister 123’s Progress Shirt and Opinion Coat. (Courtesy Sagmeister 123)

With His First Clothing Line, Stefan Sagmeister Visualizes Positive Global Trends

Stefan Sagmeister is a contemporary polymath. Following his curiosity through many forms, the Austrian-born, New York–based graphic designer has produced striking objects, installations, and participatory artworks throughout his decades-long career. (Sagmeister speaks about some of these projects and others on Ep. 8 of our Time Sensitive podcast, and on Ep.106 of our At a Distance podcast.) While his output, at first glance, might appear to move wildly between subjects, a closer look reveals a consistent interest in visualizing data in inventive and engaging ways.

Typology's Organic Rosehip Botanical Oil

The Wonders of Rosehip Oil, a Time-Honored Elixir for Skin

The Italian writer and thinker Umberto Eco, when explaining how he came up with the title of his beloved novel The Name of the Rose, wrote that he chose it “because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it has hardly any meaning left.” Across time periods and cultures, the sweet-smelling flower’s significance, depending on its color and context, has symbolized sentiments including love, beauty, innocence, mourning, silence, secrecy, purity, and passion. In Victorian England, yellow roses were even used to signify jealousy, conflict, and suspicions of infidelity. Beyond their symbolic richness, though, roses also contain another attribute with a wide range of uses.