Downwind installation ISEA 2013

Downwind installation ISEA 2013

Downwind: Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris 2013

The Downwind installation combines art, engineering and science research and is composed of twenty pods that sense human presence and respond by breathing smells on the audience. The whole of nature is communicating with olfactory signals largely disregarded by humans despite their measurable effects on human behaviour and emotions. 

  The pods sense human presence and respond by expressing controlled delivery of 20 specifically chosen smell compounds in calibrated amounts via a programmed mechanism that uses arduinos, servo motors, ultrasonic distance sensors.   The smell compounds that the pods exhale are ones known to elicit specific anosmias  ( loss of sense of smell ) for some, and not for others.  List of  compounds here. Backdrop painting: Stockholm tar and plastic.

Downwind explores our differences in olfactory sensitivity and selectivity due to the genetic basis of human olfactory variability and the perception of odiferous sequences in changed contexts. The revolutionary wind of genetic discovery suggests that we may not all be perceiving the same reality.

 Pod mechanism

Pod mechanism

Humans, animals and insects are immersed in an atmospheric ocean of olfactory cues which are in dynamic flux with olfactory perception. At first the phenomena of smell may seem insignificant but humans are bound up in the transpiration and consumption/absorption of olfactory particles.  Emerging as vapours into the troposphere, fragrances arise from cultural, social and political systems that have engineered the landscapes and thus mindscapes into settlements, habitations, fields, factories, front lawns and streets.

Downwind explores our differences and preferences  in olfactory sensitivity and selectivity, and the perception of odiferous sequences.  It may be possible to retrain our declining sense of smell to perceive the cyphers of chemical signals not just with the nose but with the gut and to note the feelings and emotions that arise from olfactory materials, whether natural, synthetic or engineered.   

Is a visceral comprehension possible in a sanitised and deodorised olfactory environment suffused with new synthetic olfactory molecular architectures for smell and taste? Synthesised and novel particles may affect microbes and thus by implication the immune system which establishes a distinction between self and other which eventually transforms the behaviour of living beings.

Not only are synthetic olfactory molecules changing perception of the world, but technologies are changing perception. Whether natural, synthetic or engineered, they are the olfactory cyphers of change, yet sensing them is defined by a combination of genetics and personal experiences. To increase our ability to perceive the information of new chemical signals not just with the nose but with the gut it may be necessary to retrain one's olfactory observation and to note the feelings and emotions that arise from olfactory materials.

Jack Ox's discussion about Downwind in her final dissertation. The literature review- chapter 2 covers and orders conceptual metaphor theory and conceptual blending theory into a taxonomy that is very useful for cross-modal mapping. Chapter 3 is all about intermedia and multimodal entities. Then chapter 5-10 reexplains the parts of the lit review with analysis of examples- I examine Raewyn’s olfactory work in the chapter on conceptual blending.

We made two interactive sugar-dispensing devices. A little sugar on your tongue may help amplify your sense of smell. When you place your hand on the dish it activates the silver wrecking ball spins in the sugar cone which drops a few sugar grains into your hand.


Thanks to Richard Newcomb, Plant and Food Research, Monell Chemical Senses Center, USA., Creative New Zealand, ISEA, Chris Davison

Please find more information at KissingBees Journal

Downwind First Prize 2012 Art sculpture Awards.The Trusts, Waitakere

Exhibited in  ISEA public program Resistance is Futile: Curatorial Theme: : Ecologies and Technologies.     with funding from  Creative New Zealand

Presentation Downwind : Investigating Smell and the Images and Feelings it Evokes at V Congreso International de Sinestesia, Ciencia Y Arte 2015. Andalucia, Spain.  

Presentation Downwind  : Code Biology Conference, Urbino, Italy, 24-28 May, 2016

Downwind  presented in class curriculum, China