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A man's hands assemble a wooden bucket on a wooden floor.

Bucket Feats

In a year so necessarily and intensely domestic, it’s especially easy to appreciate the beauty and singularity of something designed and built with care. Nakagawa Mokkougei, a father-son shop with studios in Kyoto and Shiga, is a world-class maker of ki-oke, wooden buckets traditionally used in Japanese onsen that have found alternative uses throughout the world, such as storing rice, holding champagne bottles, and elevating vessels for everyday use. (The outfit’s immaculate wares are available in the U.S. through the New York design gallery Les Atelier Courbet.) A seventh-generation master woodworker and artist, the elder Nakagawa, Kiyotsugu, and his son, Shuji, have collaborated with the likes of Nendo and Hiroshi Sugimoto and, like many craftspeople, practice their art as a way of life, working at a personal scale and using natural materials and time-honored processes. Even the scents of their works are highly considered. “Sawara cypress has a soft smell and the property of absorbing water well, so I usually use it for rice keepers,” Shuji says. “Hinoki cypress has a strong scent, so it’s not suitable for food and drink directly, but it’s good for bath goods.”

Echinopsis oxygona. (Photo: Rouibi Dhia Eddine Nadjm)

Succulently Scented

Houseplants bring their surroundings to life. From helping to define a space to boosting serotonin levels and dissolving volatile airborne chemicals, indoor greenery has been scientifically proven to facilitate a healthier home. Some of the most resilient plants—specifically, certain succulents and cacti—have the added value of scenting their settings. This fragrant quality emerges from the plants’ flowers, which typically bloom in the spring. The buds open rapidly, usually within hours, and can emit sweet, citrusy, or even peppery scents, depending on the variety.

Anicka Yi’s “Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica)” (2022), on view at Milan’s Pirelli HangarBicocca. (Photo: Agostino Osio. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca.)

Bacterial Beauty

Anicka Yi’s intoxicatingly sensory installations don’t just surround the viewer—many of them literally permeate the body, their scents seeping into pores and penetrating nostrils. Take “Immigrant Caucus,” a 2017 work by the Seoul-born, New York–based artist (who was the guest on Ep. 14 of our At a Distance podcast), in which three industrial steel tanks saturate the air with an aroma concocted by fusing secretions from carpenter ants with sweat samples from Manhattan’s Chinatown and Koreatown. Paired with a metal mesh gate, it’s an incisive meditation on Asian American identity, exploitative labor, and intolerance.

Gordon Hempton. (Photo: Cameron Karsten)

Peace and Quiet

Gordon Hempton thinks about the Earth as a “solar-powered jukebox.” The acoustic ecologist, author, and Emmy award–winning sound recordist has spent more than four decades recording nature’s audible physical qualities—many so fundamental, such as a sunrise or rain falling in a forest, that we often fail to notice them. Hempton’s sonic portraits, made in remote regions around the world, capture sounds as varied as the locations themselves: He has recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, amid thunder in Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, and at dawn breaking across six continents. Hempton sees his work, as he puts it, as “an invitation to feel,” where soundscapes can give rise to illumination, awe, and personal growth.

The Isle Royale in Lake Superior, one of the sites rendered digitally in “A Species Between Worlds.” (Courtesy Life Calling Initiative)

Space Between

In 2016, a stampede of people flooded the streets of Taipei, stopping garbage trucks and buses in the wake of their single-minded pursuit. What unified so many to disrupt the rhythms of everyday life couldn’t be seen by anyone outside of the crowd, because it wasn’t anywhere “outside” for them to see. The answer rested in the smart devices of the procession’s members, leading them on through the popular Pokémon Go app, a game that—this should seem obvious now that we’re in 2022—lets users look at an augmented world through their phone’s camera, overlaying reality with virtual Pokémon to be discovered (in the case of the Taipei crowd, an ultra-rare Snorlax).

"Five Echoes" installation by Es Devlin

Tree Maze

Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel spent her childhood at an orphanage in Aubazines, a commune in central France that was surrounded by forests. She developed a deep reverence for the woods, and used it to inform her inaugural fragrance, Chanel No. 5, made from 20 botanical essences and released in 1921 by her namesake fashion brand. Chanel, of course, went on to become one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century, and her timeless perfume rose to prominence. To commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the scent, Chanel commissioned London-based artist and stage designer Es Devlin to translate the iconic aroma into an immersive installation that will open in tandem with Miami Art Week. The resulting project, called “Five Echoes” (on view Nov. 30 through Dec. 21)—located in the Miami Design District’s outdoor event space, Jungle Plaza—is a sprawling, multisensory experience that reminds visitors of the enduring connection between nature and ourselves. (Craig Robins, a real estate developer and art collector who co-founded the Design Miami collectible design fair, speaks about the culture and urban planning within the Miami Design District on Ep. 28 of our Time Sensitive podcast.)

Courtesy A Space

Earthy Essence

In 2020, the Noguchi Museum opened “The Sculptor and the Ashtray”—an intimate, one-room exhibition chronicling the artist’s pursuit to create the perfect ashtray. The negative space employed in Isamu Noguchi’s designs, as well as the show’s culminating statement about design and its power to shape the modern world, inspired designers Anna Aristova and Roza Gazarian, founders of New York–based studio A Space, to make a collection of hand-carved bowls, produced from special material—Lebanese cedar—that has a signature balsamic scent.

Air Eau de Parfum by Air Company

Air Force

While many businesses, in the midst of the climate crisis, scramble to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the New York start-up Air Company zeroes in on enhancing its production process, which sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere. Co-founded by entrepreneur Greg Constantine and chemist Stafford Sheehan, in 2017, the brand uses a proprietary procedure to convert carbon dioxide into impurity-free alcohols, which serve as the foundation for carbon-negative liquids including hand sanitizer and vodka (the latter of which Joe Doucet, the company’s partner and designer, spoke with us about in 2019). Recently, the company ventured into the fragrance realm with Air Eau de Parfum, a unisex, limited-edition concotion pulled quite literally out of thin air.

A woman and a man smelling bottles of fragrances.

Air and Atmosphere

For Shizuko Yoshikuni and Manuel Kuschnig, the Japanese-Austrian couple behind the Berlin-based olfactory design studio Aoiro, scent is essential to the success of any environment, adding an important experiential quality that goes beyond sight and sound. They make location-specific aromas for a wide range of clients—including Bang & Olufsen, Design Hotels, and Vitra, whose VitraHaus gallery in Germany reopened this week with a custom Aoiro scent diffused through the air of its entrance—with the aim of eliciting an emotion. Walk into any of their perfumed projects, and its savor is likely to be felt, not simply smelled.

Nature (All 287 articles)

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