Pollution Allures


For many creatures, gossip and exchange emerge in the form of smelt signals and chemical chatter, where smells carry information, warnings, love and danger. As human-made-chemicals pour through environments, these chemical languages are shifting beyond recognition. Floral scents are altered by smog, metallic soils confuse communication across plant roots, whilst stinky landfills divert bird migration routes. Meanwhile, some creatures and plants are learning to seek the stink of toxins, drawing them within their bodies. Whilst some plants are learning new (synthetic) chemical languages, humans are loosing their ability to smell within polluted airs. The smell-absorbing bed of the installation forms a respite and pallet cleanser for overworked noses, straining to smell pollution-altered allures.
In order to become familiar with environmental information, plants must drink an odor into their very being. They therefore actively rearrange polluted spaces through their smell-based knowledge, diverting waste-streams through their bodies; building new worlds, in worlds of residue. These plants operate in a world of altered-olfaction, when smelt languages flow from polluted residues as well as biochemical signals. 𝑷𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒖𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝑨𝒍𝒍𝒖𝒓𝒆𝒔 collects plants from across polluted sites in London and Rotterdam, forming an altered olfactory garden of species that sense toxic pollutants, seek lead-filled bomb sites, the shadows of waste incinerators, and gather within nitrogen-rich road verges. To rebuild polluted space, these plants do not collaborate with humans, but with the technological apparatus and chemical residues of human-made systems. This olfactory garden forms a space of healing and refuge—with species that thirst for pollutants amongst those that filter smog-filled airs, and medicinal plants that have been used to protect humans from dangerous airs for millennia.  These plants form a 𝒄𝒉𝒊𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒍 𝒈𝒂𝒓𝒅𝒆𝒏 of chemical chatter between the toxic and vegetal, collaborating to reorder and reroute waste worlds. The garden sings in an environment of chemical warnings, love, desire and danger, in the choral chemical chatter of heavy metal and plant root.

𝑷𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒖𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝑨𝒍𝒍𝒖𝒓𝒆𝒔 was commissioned on the occasion of Becoming Geological, an exhibition at V2 Gallery in Rotterdam, curated by Martin Howse and Florian Weigl. Becoming Geological provokes new and ancient imaginaries for the essential relation of the human with the earth and with the cosmos, invoking becoming metal, becoming earth and becoming cosmic as potential and multiple ways of being and as active philosophies of the earth; an exploration of how to live and die within novel planetary and cosmic techno-cycles.

Whilst creatures converse through smell,
pollutants have been altering our chemical worlds.
Creatures now also find themselves communing with toxins,
speaking a new form of language,
Finding a whisper in an acid,
Or an invitation in a metal.

—pollution repulses, but it also allures—

Scent is a powerful trigger.
A memory of a moment from long ago
A primordial sense from the primordial millue,
Before anything had eyes to focus on the image,
And chemical cues were the only words
there were to share.

How can we make sense,
with what sense,
something that is invisible.
Or that we are becoming less sensible to?

In the human nose,
Anosmia is spreading.
Sniff in a dose of ozone and your nose recoils
Breathe in more. Your senses deaden.
Air pollution dampens our ability to smell
Disguising in our noses

And our cognition

Our ability to recognise
What is said in a smell.

A Chimeral Garden 

Living organisms are all a little metallic, as metal is necessary for all life. Some people can even smell the iron from the blood within their bodies. An industrial thirst for metals within machinery, electronics and infrastructure has caused a build up of dangerous heavy metals across landscapes. In the ground, metallic compounds join the underground chatter of chemical conversations between species, calling out for friendship in the hubbub of plant conversation within the soil. Some plants, known as hyper-accumulators, answer the metallic cries, welcoming the metals into their bodies. 
Betula nana (Mountain Birch) [absorbs: Pb, Cu, Zn, As, Cd] |  Ballota nigra (Black horehound) [absorbs: Hg] | Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) [absorbs: Pb, As, Zi, Cr, C, Mg & radioactive elements] | Chenopodium album (Lambs Quarters) [absorbs: Zi, C, Pb, synthetic pesticides] | Malva neglecta (Common Mallow)[absorbs: Pb, Cd, Cu, Ni, Fe, Mn, Zn, and Co] |  Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) [absorbs: Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn] | Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwart) [absorbs: Cd] | Salix sp. (Willow) [absorbs: Cd-, Cu-, Hg-, Pb-, and Zn] | Lavandula vera  (Lavender) [absorbs: Pb] |

Synthetic nitrogens have been pouring across landscapes, due to petrochemicals in the form of oils, fuel, plastics and fertilisers. Whilst some species wither in these nitrogen fluxes, an opportunistic few are drawn to the whiff of nitrogen, drinking the petrochemical meal through olfactory whispers from their mycorrhizal world. These plants are fertilised across road verges and the shadows of aeroplanes. Other plants are drawn to different pollutant meals, such as salt-rich-roads filled with halophytes, or mosses drinking the calcium leaches of degraded concretes.
Chrysanthemum (Mums) [absorb benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia] | Erigeron canadensis (Horseweed)[absorb synthetic nitrogen from car exhausts]  | Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow Parsley)[absorb synthetic nitrogen from car exhausts] | Urtica dioica (Common Nettle) [absorb synthetic nitrogen from car exhausts] | Alchemilla (Ladies Mantle) [absorb nitrogen and nitrates from surrounding air] | Triangle Orache (Saltbush)[accumulate and remove salts from soil] | Cochlearia danica (Danish Scurvy Grass)[accumulate and remove salts from soil] | Lonicera (Honeysuckle) [ “addicted to pollution”: absorbs nitrates, ammonia]

Before the development of the germ theory, people believed that illness lingered in stench and miasmatic ‘bad airs’ were attributed to death. During this time sweet floral scents were used to ward off death-smells, with the use of herb gardens and pomanders. Individuals fumigated their homes with incense, juniper, laurel, rosemary, vinegar, and gunpowder. Some families even kept a goat in the house for added olfactory protection. Many plants have continued to be utilised across urban regions to mask and hide the smells of industry that waft in the air.
Lime/Linden (Tilia trees) | Laurus nobilis (Laurel) | Lavandula (Lavendar) | Rosa (Rose) | Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) | Origanum vulgare (Oregano) | Salvia officinalis (Sage ) | Mentha arvensis (Mint) | Salvia rosmarinus (Rosemary)

There is a subsection of vegetation that acts as atmospheric engineers, toxic terraformers, and catchers of clouds. Hairy foliage will keep a plant cool, deter insects and regulate water. These hairs also act as tiny traps of airborne pollutants: encouraging toxic airs to deposit their contents. Evergreen shrubs are also said to be excellent year-round atmospheric ‘filterers’. Meanwhile, pollutants may interact with the plant’s ability to recognise its surroundings, as smell messages from leaf to leaf fall on smothered receptors.
Hendera Helix (common Ivy) | Cotoneaster franchetii (Franchet’s cotoneaster | Crataegus (Hawthorn) | Asteraceae (Aster) | Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias) | Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) | Sambucus (Elder) | Betula nana (Mountain Birch) | Taxus baccata (Common yew) 

As urban atmospheres become heady with ozone, smell-scapes are chemically altered beyond recognition. As their olfactory maps become muddled, many floral odour molecules have become so altered that insects struggle to find their way. Meanwhile, smog damages human olfaction, making smells more subtle and less certain the more we occupy polluted airs.
Antirrhinum Maju  (Wild Snapdragon) | Nicotiana tabacum (Tobacco Flower)