At first sight, the Pure Spiritual trend might awaken preconceived ideas about organic materials and earth-based dyes. But on closer inspection, what differentiates Pure Spiritual from other nature-based trends is its ability to go far deeper. Instead, this trend also shows how technology can be embraced for the greater good, and what opportunities exist for individuals to use technology in a way that intersects with nature.
It’s a trend which reconciles the past with the present, evocative of a recent project that similarly explores the natural world. Resurrecting the Sublime is an ongoing collaboration which “allows us to smell extinct flowers, lost due to colonial activity.” The work of many, the project is created by artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas and the team at biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, encompassing engineers and researchers led by Director Dr. Christina Agapakis, with the support of IFF Inc.
It all started with specimens of three flowers stored at Harvard University’s Herbaria, which each had small amounts of DNA extracted from them. Using this DNA, the Gingko team predicted and resynthesized gene sequences that had the potential to encode for fragrance-producing enzymes. With these findings, Tolaas was able to use identical or comparative smell molecules in her own lab to reconstruct the flowers’ fragrances.
Outside its origins in the lab, the project has taken on a physical form and appeared in galleries around the world. From a solo exhibition as part of the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne to group shows at the Centre Pompidou, the Barbican Centre and beyond, previous iterations of the installation have included a vitrine with smell diffusion, limestone boulders and animations. While the project’s foundations focused on our olfactory system, the overall experience actually engages multiple senses.
In the context of today’s global conversations surrounding climate change and sustainability, Resurrecting the Sublime feels more pertinent than ever. While the collaboration began with the question, “Could we ever again smell flowers driven to extinction by humans?”, it invites audiences to not only reflect on what we’ve lost, but what we must sustain for the future.
Header photo: Resurrecting the Sublime by Christina Agapakis (Ginkgo Bioworks Inc.), Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sissel Tolaas, with support from IFF Inc, Courtesy of Harvard University Herbaria © Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., The Herbarium of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.