“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions or will.”
Patrick Süskind, Le Parfum
The Scent of Place – How do we perceive and experience a place? By trying to slowly position myself here in British Colombia, I would like to capture the scents of this place. How do we recollect memories and experiences by the simple act of smelling on a sheet of paper?
“Grief is love where the object of love is cut of”
When do experiences become memories? When do habits become rituals? When does time become sequenced in generations? Once the emotional factor inhabits those, our perception shifts. But how can emotions be embodied in these systems?
Telling a story doesn’t necessarily need to happen verbally. We can sing, write, draw, play, and much more to communicate what we want to convey. But if we open up the conversation to ourselves there are more ways to tell a story. To recall a memory. Here, every knit, stitch, line, fold, brush or scratch are ways to manifest or recall a narrative, when we emotionally engage with the ways of our making. The outcome of this making will be the product of our emotion. An emotionally imbued object.
During the last weeks habits of mine have been shifted to becoming rituals. By occupying my hands through craft I allow myself to think of all the stories that have been told to me, all the experiences I have made with a person who is no longer with us. I have created many of these emotionally imbued objects and when looking at them I am reminded with joy and grief.
For this short project I wanted to create something that would go one layer above. An object that is not just filled with emotions while creating, but actually allows me to imbue more narratives whenever needed. A notebook for myself. For my thoughts only and in memories of a beloved person.
“Our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from its ashes.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For this last action I teamed up with Christa, and we decided that with this action we wanted to create a framework for collaborative work in which we could unfold our passion for making and experimenting. This is meant to be an ongoing action in progress, starting independently from two places in the world and to be continued in Vancouver.
We reflected on our actions together and realized that we somehow wanted to explore a material resource we both would have at hand and learn from each others experiences. We decided to use ash.
Even though ash symbolizes the transience of things on one side, ash can also nurture the soil with all its minerals and foster growth. Same as with ash, this action might have been representing an end, but it will hopefully nurture more actions to come.
Ancient ways of Making – Solidifying Milk and Ash
Creating Casein Glue (Milk Glue) is an ancient and natural way of producing an adhesive. I tried some experiments with it some time ago. That time I would have all the ingredients bought – this time I wanted to do it all from scratch.
Casein is the chief protein in milk and essential for thickening, in order to produce any sort of cheese.
Usually you would use the casein itself as a dry powder in order to make glue. You would then add water and limestone. In this case I mixed lemon juice with milk and after some time filtered the casein from the whey. Instead of limestone, I used mortified wood ash which is alkaline too. I poured the mixture in a plastic form and waited until it was dry. Seems like I was still too impatient, as it wasn’t dried out completely once I demoulded the piece. Still I was surprised ! It reminds me of a volcanic stone.
Printmaking with Ash
Starting with casein once again, I tried using the mixture to print a linoleum cut I prepared for this action. The small pieces of ash, that I didn’t sift made it hard to print – however the process of applying the “paint” would make sounds and was an interesting experience as well.
After that I decided to search for the tiny particles I would actually find in the ash too and “collected” soot by placing a ceramic plate in a candle. I mixed it with the casein base and it turned out really nice!
Or is it embedding stories and keeping memories? I don’t know. All I know is that for this action, I wanted to look into something I picked on in action eight – remembrance. How do we remember stories? How do we evoke memories? How do we forget them?
Is it the act of writing the letter, reading the letter or the fact that they exist – what exactly evokes the memory for us?The content or the context?
Some time ago I started to write down the stories of my grandma. How often will I still be able to hear them? What if I can no longer recall them? Will I lose these memories and no longer be able to pass them on? There is so much knowledge in those stories no history book could reveal. These are personal narratives from past generations – real and approachable. Who if not her can tell me the story of my family? Maybe I am dealing with a certain notion of heritage here as well and as I will be moving to Canada in a few days, thinking about family, life, and transitions feels just right.
A lot of letters my grandma still keeps are written in old German script, which I can no longer read. So only writing down memories does not seem to guarantee to keep them forever.
I sat down and started writing down the story of how my great-grandfather came to Germany. I wrote it as a handwritten letter. In order to see how I could alienate the purpose of a letter I cut the paper in stripes and used a paper-thread technique I heard about some time ago. I created threads by twisting the wet paper strips and letting them dry.
After that I tried to make an artifact, that would allow me to embed the stories. I weaved the threads and some other material in a circular shape.
The writing, cutting, twisting and weaving finally manifested the story in my head. The act was the outcome. The artifact a tool to remember.
In my previous action I learned about the symbolic meaning of rosemary and felt that this needed to be embodied in some sort of wearable garment. I placed the piece of cloth around my wrist and it somehow shifted its association. The scales became dragon skin, the reflections became playful.
I am not at all a fashion designer and know little about sewing clothes. However I tried my best to create a garment which would allow me to embody the memories these sequins had created for me.
“There is rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”
William Shakespeare; Ophelia in Hamlet
I didn’t have a clue what rosemary symbolized when I strayed through the garden, looking for herbs and scents that I like – to which I have a connection and whose scent would reveal good memories to me.
Rosmarinus officinalis is a woody herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves and it’s usually native to the Mediterranean region.
Dew of the Sea
The name rosemary comes from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus) – in many locations it just needs the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live. I remember very well, how you could see this giant rosemary bushes everywhere in Italy and Croatia. They would stand in bright sunlight on dusty lands leaving a beautiful picture with white, pink, purple or blue blossoms sometimes.
Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory, and has been used as a symbol for remembrance (during weddings, war commemorations and funerals) in Europe and Australia. Twigs of rosemary would be thrown into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies – the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. From this rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newly wed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day, it’s growth was then a good omen.
Without knowing all of this, I picked a bunch of rosemary leaves from our garden. We would usually use it for cooking, but as we haven’t used up that much this summer, we still have a lot left.
I remembered Christa’s action, where she would make paper from cedar bark. I guessed, that rosemary leaves have unusual long fibers, plus they have a very nice fragrant and could give me some potential to experiment in paper-making once again.
I cooked the rosemary leaves in water and meanwhile dyed some fabric and wool to see how the color would turn out. It turned out golden!
Then I decided to crush the softened rosemary leaves with a hammer. I worked quite some time until I finally had a pulp that would no longer look tasty, but still smelled tasty.
(I don’t know what my parents thought of her daughter, who would sit for an hour in the garden hammering a piece of cloth and being all proud that she made this …something!)
The dried sheets turned out very fragile, and it seemed like I washed the smell out by using the common paper-making technique. It would still smell a bit, but not as intense as I thought it would. However the dyed fabric caught my attention, especially after learning so much about the history of rosemary and it’s symbolic meaning. It just seemed so literate, that the color turned out to be a precious golden.
I decided to solidify the color dye with agar, which is an algae-based gelatin alternative and poured and dried some drops, in order to achieve some sort of sequins once they would be dried out.
I stitched them onto a backing fabric and it really inspired my imagination. As rosemary was worn on weddings and funerals, maybe I could implement this technique in some kind of garment?
It looks organic and a bit like fish scales, yet very luxurious and rare – and limited in existence.
The impression achieved by the scales, which are made of the colour of rosemary and a little agar, puts the original meaning of rosemary into a new context. – dew of the sea
Dew as the drops of rosemary Sea as the visual character of marine life
After some time, the garment would decompose and the magic would disappear. I am looking forward to see how time will treat this experiment.
This action happened very spontaneously. When thinking of the action’s self-determination I started playing around with the sage paper that was lying on my desk. I noticed that somehow the smell had disappeared to a certain point – it somehow smelled …good! So I decided I’ll give it another try and won’t give up on the sage.
I wanted to bring the 2-dimensional paper to life, so I started thinking of how I can give it volume. I started bending the paper and testing how much flexibility it gives me. I didn’t make all of the sheets the same, so I had some very thin ones and also some thicker ones. I decided to cut the sage paper into elements that I would, later on, sew together – in my mind I wanted to achieve a sphere. The form emerged by making.
I loved working with this paper! It made me so happy to think of it as a one of a kind material and how if it doesn’t work, I could technically just throw it back in the garden and start producing new paper again and start new! When cutting the paper I had to be careful and treat each paper individually as some parts were very thin and would tear. A simple straight line was nearly impossible to cut, as the pieces of sage-leaves wouldn’t allow me to. So I simply had to cut around – respond to the matter – learn from the matter.
In my action six I described how I burned one sheet of sage paper when placing it too close to a candle. That time I wanted to investigate how light could become interesting with the paper.
This time, I tried it once more – this time with my phone instead of fire and I was amazed! This was not what I expected at all.
The light turned out green, even though the paper itself does not appear green in daylight. Light spots and shadows evolve from the natural pattern within the paper and remind me of stars!
I will investigate forgotten and new knowledge through the actions of further material explorations.
There is a lot of knowledge shared, yet a lot of knowledge forgotten. A lot of knowledge has been proven, a lot of knowledge has been held back. How can the forgotten, the hidden, the restrained knowledge become accessible to society again?
In my previous action, I have been referring to a very old book by German scientist Leonhard Fuchs, finalized in the year 1543. Here, knowledge about common plants is shared – plants that are still in our environment when we look closer. Some of its knowledge had been carried into pharmacy, some of it just vanished. Most of it is no longer carried from one generation to another – it disappears like the plants itself.
The synergy with the plant world has reduced for many societies. But what’s left is the interaction with plants in the kitchen. Mostly because of taste we use herbs to refine our recipes. What would a Saltimbocca be without its sage? A pesto without its basil? But which other hidden potentials lie behind these plants?
Ancient knowledge being discovered once more with a new way of interaction.
placing sage in a new context.
The medicinal plant sage helps with digestive problems, Alzheimer’s disease and menopausal complaints. Externally, sage is used for gum and throat inflammation. Sage leaves, prepared as tea for gargling, have an anti-inflammatory effect on mouth and throat diseases. The leaves are narrow, stalked, finely wrinkled, grey-felted and overwintering. Sage leaves are used fresh or dried as a spice for meat dishes. Due to its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, sage has a preservative effect and prevents fats from becoming rancid.
Translated from http://homoeopathie-naturheilkunde.vitanet.de/heilpflanzenlexikon/salbei
We have a lot of ancient monasteries in Germany, we would visit as children. Sometimes there were some plays for children, sometimes there were some events were monks would explain how people lived in medieval times. One memory that I would never forget, was hearing monks talking about the medical herbs garden and how sage was used as the very first tooth brush. The sage leaves having this rough but still soft surface, would become handy for rubbing the teeth clean.
Exploring the leaves’ surface :
The leaves are fascinating. They resemble soft textile, yet they are rough and in a way durable. I started off by weaving (very low-tech weaving) the leaves to receive some sort of surface I could explore. Reflecting on my senses, I noticed how the smell was present when focussing on exploring the leaves with my hands.
Exploring the smell of sage:
I dried the leaves in the oven with low heat to explore its smell. To be honest: I noticed how I pretty soon could no longer bear the smell anymore. Many people will surely love the smell – for me (and my family who started complaining very soon) it was just too intense! Still, I wanted to continue and see what I could explore when “making” with the sage leaves.
Exploring making with sage:
I dried two trays of sage and shredded the leaves until I had a fine powder. Amazingly this powder looked very much like textile fiber dust and was super soft and light. It looked beautiful but I noticed that this would not become any base for paper making, as it turned out so fragile and light. I decided to add some old paper shred and started paper making. I tried thicker pieces and thinner pieces. All the sheets still smell like sage (as does our oven). Incredible how the smell would stay and the soft and rough surface that can be found when looking at the leaves, can still be detected in the paper.
One shot before it started burning ! I tried to place the paper above a candle to investigate if the smell of burned sage would evolve that way, too. Well, let me say it did!
It was a fun action and I do not feel like this action is done yet. I will continue in this direction with action 7 – this time I will luckily choose a smell I will still enjoy in the end.
“Ecologically Literate” was the word I’ve chosen for my Action 3, in which the experience of nature was put into focus. How could I translate nature to a material I had at home? How could the picture of wilderness become more clear in my imagination by using more than just one of my senses?
For this Action, I went out. I went to the woods. I went to the park. I went to those places where I felt like I am experiencing nature on my own. I first started off by collecting everything I could find and what I found was interesting – either the way it looked, the way it smelled or the way it felt in my hand.
I found blackberry bushes whose fruits somehow dried out, leaving some early stage blackberries behind. I found acorns and their loose “hats”, which looked super interesting and when looking closer, were in a way so perfectly shaped to my surprise. I found pinecones, reminding me of being a child, when using them with my brothers to attack each other by throwing them on one another. And I found chestnuts and horse chestnuts – this is the time of the year when everybody would look for them in the forests. They are all over the place over here.
Walking through the forests reminded me of my childhood, traditions and even stories my grandma would tell me. How she would look for certain plants and certain leaves during war, because those would be used as tea or medicin when they didn’t have anything else. She still knows everything about any local plant in the forest, because it was crucial to know them – they were dependent on nature. The big difference to us today is: her generation was also aware of it!
I feel like we are loosing this knowledge from generation to generation. My grandma might not know as much as her parents did. My parents might not know as much as my grandparents do, and I certainly don’t know all of what my parents know about nature. Will next generations even know why nature is important in the first place?
I wanted to test, if I can learn something from nature without someone else telling me what is possible. An experiment of getting to know nature AGAIN(?!) by experimenting.
I cut the chestnuts in half and looked at the different components. I decided to cook the chestnuts. When cooked I could at some point take off the shell and decided to continue only boiling the shell. Probably I would get some kind of color.
It turned out pretty interesting. It was a bit harder than I thought to peel off the shell but it worked. The inner component of the chestnut started to turn into some kind of bubbly soap while in the hot water. Definitely something I want to look into at some point as well! When boiling the shells a super nice color developed. I used it to dye fabric, wool and cotton threads.
They all turned out so different. The wool turned out intensively brown, the cotton thread and fabric would turn light brown.
And so my dad came into the kitchen and as he is a passionate chemist I must have been triggering his inner explorer with my “primitive experiments”. A conversation about colors, plants and textiles developed and he explained to me why certain colors and materials would work differently – besides he was quite impressed by the chestnut color. It will definitely not be long lasting he mentioned, but he didn’t expect such a strong color at all. He gave me some basic chemicals to experiment with, such as soda, copper or iron solution to see how the PH-value and other components would have an impact on the color. So the action turned out to be more “scientific” than intended. It was fun!
It was super interesting to start with something I found appealing on the forest ground, to experiment with no clue and then in the end to experiment in a more scientific way. I later on used the fabric and threads to try embroidering with it. It was fun thinking about how all the shades were achieved with chestnuts. One product from nature resulting in so many different versions.