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Experience the Scents of Long-Lost Flowers

Submitted by on May 13, 2019 – 8:01 amNo Comment

Resurrecting the Sublime“Resurrecting the Sublime”, an immersive installation created in collaboration with artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas, debuted yesterday as part of Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in New York City, co-organized with Cube design museum, at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, New York, New York; it’s open through January 20, 2020.

“Resurrecting the Sublime” allows visitors to experience a glimpse of the past through an extinct flower’s resurrected scent. The exhibit serves as a tangible example of damage humans have caused in the past, and how synthetic biology could affect our relationship with nature in the future.

Using its foundry for organism design, a multidisciplinary team at Ginkgo Bioworks led by creative director Christina Agapakis, business leader Jason Kakoyiannis, and technical program lead Christian Ridley used synthetic biology to revive the smell of the extinct plant by sequencing DNA from preserved specimens. They then resynthesized and injected that DNA into yeast to reproduce the flowers’ scents.

These smell molecules are the starting point for chemical reproductions made by Sissel Tolaas. The reconstructed smells are then diffused in fragments into immersive environments designed by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, referencing the geology of the flower’s lost habitat. As the smells mix, every inhalation is different, underscoring one of the main messages of the exhibit: we can look to the past, but we cannot bring it back.

With projects ranging from experimental prototypes to consumer products, immersive installations, and architectural constructions, Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial features the work of sixty-two international design teams, including scientists, engineers, advocates for social and environmental justice, artists, and philosophers.

(Photo courtesy of Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg)

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