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Saturday, January 18, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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SPONSORED BY
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Good morning.

This week, we preview Olafur Eliasson’s “Symbiotic Seeing” exhibition at Kunsthaus Zurich; discover ancient materials with jewelry designer Monique Péan; consider the benefits of turmeric; geek out with Devon Turnbull, founder of the bespoke audio brand Ojas; and perk up our noses with the new book Scentual Garden.

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See
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Hopeful Futures
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(Courtesy the artist; Neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles)
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A fascination with science and nature defines the many avenues of creative work by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elaisson, whose large-scale installations are often visceral, atmospheric experiences that prod our perspective of—and connection to—the natural world. Where a painter uses canvas and color, Eliasson invokes artificial fog, an indoor simulation of the sun, man-made waterfalls, and color-bombed rivers that have been secretly dyed fluorescent green in cities across the world. Socially and environmentally oriented, he also runs a nonprofit for solar-power energy, and was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations last fall. In his latest solo exhibition, “Symbiotic Seeing,” on view through March 22 at Kunsthaus Zurich, Eliasson once again urges us to be aware of our place in the world, highlighting the relationship between humans and non-humans coexisting on the same planet. It’s art made for our times, to say the least. Though the source material may be bleak, Eliasson’s attitude and message has always remained optimistic: “If our vision of the future doesn’t have an element of hope,” he says, “we are less likely to do something.”

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Touch
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Cosmic Awareness
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(Courtesy Monique Péan)

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Jewelry designer Monique Péan shares a window into the geologic formations, cosmic artifacts, and natural sciences that inspired her latest series, Cosma 67°48”x 23°68”, which showcases Muonionalusta—an ancient protoplanet predating the earth itself.
 
When did you first encounter the Muonionalusta meteorite and become interested in it?
 
During my travels in Scandinavia, and I’ve been collecting these specimens since. As one of the solar system’s oldest objects, Muonionalusta meteorite slices are approximately 4.6 billion years old, predating the formation of the Earth. My most recent series traces the path from its protoplanetary source in orbit to its final impact site, on the remote banks of the Muonio river in northern Sweden and Finland. 

What specifically intrigued me about the material was its otherworldly geometric etching—known as the Widmanstätten pattern—which can be seen when the specimen is dissected. To understand more about these meteorites, I work with scientists to identify and study the provenance of each specimen, and learned that the octahedrite relief is the result of a process called “slow cooling,” in which the meteorite’s initially molten composition of ferrous, nickel, and kamacite crystallizes over millions of years, as the rock careens through outer space. It’s a process that cannot be replicated in a laboratory, highlighting the significance and authenticity of these ancient relics found in our universe.

What’s your design process? Where does your research into materials begin?
 
Mostly in my sketchbook, before I find a way to transcribe my charcoals and watercolors into a physical form. I’m drawn to rare prehistoric and sustainable materials that transport us back in time, and I collaborate with artisans and geologists to acquire sustainable materials according to fair-trade guidelines. In addition to the economic support that these relationships provide to the artisans, there’s also the benefit that comes from creating pieces that don’t have the significant ecological impact of traditional fine jewelry and objects.
 
Travel plays a significant part in my research, too. Over the years, I’ve cultivated relationships with local artisans in the United States, Guatemala, Peru, the Arctic Circle, Norway, and French Polynesia, among other regions. Most recently, on a trip to Chile and Easter Island, I discovered naturally formed Chilean cosmic obsidian, and right now I’m working with indigenous Rapa Nui artisans to hand-carve the material, which is volcanic glass that has been formed from quickly cooled lava flow. 

Your work takes the unfathomably large—geology, the cosmos, and outer space—and brings it down to an intimate scale. How do the two relate in your mind?
 
I’m inspired by the intersection of materiality, temporality, and space, and have been working with materials like fossilized dinosaur bone, fossilized walrus ivory, and meteorites since I started my studio practice over a decade ago. I was originally drawn to these materials by their expressive, naturally formed patterns, hues, and reliefs—as well as the way in which they challenge our circadian perception of time, preserving millions or billions of years in their mineral structures and compositions.
 
The materials I work with capture eons of geologic history—and in the case of meteorites, cosmogenic history—by presenting an imprint of an intangible past. I like to believe my handcrafted pieces preserve these natural wonders in works of art that can be passed down through generations, parallel to how they have been preserved in remote regions of our planet.
 

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SPONSORED BY
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Taste
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Yellow Mellow
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(Photo: Andrew Zuckerman)
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Turmeric, a flowering plant that’s part of the ginger family (and similarly harvested for its roots), is having its moment in the sun. Wellness hounds rave over turmeric-spiked drinks like switchel, a tonic made from apple cider vinegar, honey, and lime; and golden milk, blended with warm coconut milk. By now, every Insta-foodie and their mother has had their try of NYT Cooking’s spiced chickpea stew—so popular it’s simply referred to as #TheStew—by cookbook author and columnist Alison Roman, whose flavorful and simple recipes often go viral and are known to spike the sales of certain ingredients.
 
Sold fresh, or more commonly as a jar of dried and ground powder, the rhizomatic root may be trending with western audiences, but has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Many in the food business, Roman included, are fans of Diaspora Co., a women-run startup that sources a high quality, organically farmed, heirloom, single-origin turmeric from India. A little earthy and slightly bitter, a pinch of turmeric isn’t so pleasant on its own, though it’s a welcome ingredient to quell the winter blues. The punchy, fluorescent yellow-orange hue that permeates dishes (and—full warning—your clothing, too) not only makes us feel like we’re warding off scurvy, it’s a reminder of sunny days ahead—and besides, makes for a nice photo.
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Hear
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Outside of the Box
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(Photo: Jonathan Hökklo)
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Devon Turnbull, founder of Ojas, creates bespoke, hi-fi audio gear and speakers that are often commissioned and collected as pieces of art, with clients that include Virgil Abloh, Ace Hotel, and Public Records. Here, he tells us what goes into building a premium hi-fi system by hand and the audio heritage he’s trying to keep alive.

“For me, as an audio hobbyist interested in craftsmanship, the important thing early on was understanding exactly what was happening throughout the signal chain, on a materials and components level. Breaking those boxes open and seeing what’s going on inside of them, and what’s contributing to the sound in ways that I appreciate—or, in some cases, what’s taking the sound in a direction that I don’t want to go in. The opening of that box is a really important moment for me, looking at my whole system as a sort of assembly of parts, components, and materials, as opposed to just boxes of gear.
 
The philosophy that I design from is a very specific, niche world in hi-fi that’s based on early-to-mid-20th century audio technology. It serves a lineage that was started by Western Electric, which became a family of companies that are really the heritage of audio electronic engineering in America—they essentially invented and patented many of the fundamental building blocks that all audio reproduction is built on. Sound systems worked differently back then, and there’s a purity and transparency to the sound that people like myself really feel is unparalleled in modern audio electronics.
 
Basically, the core components are very, very low power amplifiers (which is what was possible in that era of tech), and for this you need a very efficient speaker. That’s something that can be a little counterintuitive to a lot of people—that a very efficient speaker is very large speaker. Very efficient speakers have big, heavy magnets and are also loaded with horns. The horn, just by nature, has to be a certain size in order to reproduce the necessary frequencies. It’s not designed to be large for the purposes of visual impact; if I could achieve what I’m trying to accomplish with a tiny speaker, I would be all for it.
 
Visually, one thing that I always try to stay true to is just making the products look like exactly what they are, exposing as much of the raw components as is practical and possible. And if plywood is the right material, acoustically, to use on the speaker, even when I’m painting the surface (which I often do) it should still just look like plywood; if it’s an aluminum horn, I’ll just mount that into the box. I like that things just look exactly like what they are. The way my friend who shares this aesthetic put it, you want the thing to look ‘not fancy but perfect.’ It’s a utilitarian, undesigned aesthetic.
 
Sometimes, I’m sourcing rare, desirable components, refurbishing and building them into a complete package that someone can use. As much as possible, I’m working with craftsmen who can reproduce these parts in a pure way. A lot of the work I do is involved in finding and developing relationships with these guys who are masters of their craft—and then trying to figure out how to keep these things alive, because in the last 20 years alone, a lot of the designers and craftsmen of these amazing and specific types of audio have literally died off, and you can’t just get this stuff anymore.
 
My work is made by hand, by me and maybe one other guy in my shop. A lot of mainstream hi-fi audio brands will claim or aspire to proprietary technology, and that’s basically counter to what’s inspired me. I love tried-and-true things that people have, for decades, been turning to for reliable, best-possible sound.”

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Smell
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Nature's Perfume
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(Photo: Ken Druse)
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Roses are red, violets are blue, this trite nursery rhyme is familiar to you (see what I did there?). But anecdotally, it’s also telling of our own perceptual biases. We tend to see before we smell, or at the very least, we’re more inclined to comment on an object’s appearance before its scent, and certainly have developed a richer vocabulary for discussing visual aesthetics. In an extensive new book, The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance (Harry N. Abrams), author Ken Druse makes the case for having it the other way around, with fascinating texts that explore the science of how plants communicate through scent to attract their pollinators—as well as to steer predators away, and to “talk” and “warn” one another of danger. “When describing a species or variety, most catalogs and reference sources will simply say ‘fragrant’ when scent is a factor. I wanted to know more and say more,” Druse writes. “We’ve named a thousand colors, for instance, from scarlet to puce. But words to categorize plant fragrances are hard to come by.”

The hefty compendium classifies hundreds of garden plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees by scent—a wide spectrum that ranges from sweet, fruity, and cloying, to musky, even foxy, sweaty, and skunky. Druse also offers a brief guide on how to smell, and with the seriousness of a sommelier. “It’s like sampling wine: The first sip is different from subsequent mouthfuls. But, unlike wine tasting, which may eventually get you drunk, sampling flower smells is something you can do all day.”

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala

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