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Out of Thin Air

Research Open House 2021

Collage of someone smelling a bottle with background of foliage images
Visual imagery produced by the research include botanical drawings, microscopic plant footage, and a video essay about the science behind the project.
Jean Brennan
Arianna Fouse, BFA Fine Arts ‘21
School of Design, Graduate Communications Design
Seed Grant 2019-2020

Our olfactory sense triggers memories—and by association, one might say that smell is linked to time in human perception. This experimental research is a sensory teaching tool to talk about the delicate complexity of our forests in a warming climate.

Instruments used to distill sent of plants
Distillation of plant matter using an alembic copper still.

We use ethnobotanical processes, such as distillation, tinctures, and smoke, to create scent combinations that map forest succession in Prospect Park, Brooklyn—from pre-European settlement to current and future scenarios. Outcomes also include a video essay, botanical drawings, process documentation, and microscopic footage.

Since winning the ROH Innovation Award last year, Jean has further developed her forest succession research, plant identification, and distillation in the form of hydrosols which were packaged and sold at Colorant in Beacon, NY. This semester, Jean is working with Fine Arts Senior, Arianna Fouse, to explore tinctures (concentrated plant extracts) and smoking techniques—that Ari learned during Alexis Karl’s ‘Art of Scent’ Pratt Integrative Course (PIC)—to expand the complexity of scents and fragrant combinations per time period.

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