Wolves in the Mire: A Letter

Written and performed by Simon Daniel Tegnander Wenzel as part of 'Open Endings', University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, Australia on 1 December 2022.


Dear Listener,

I would like to share a few thoughts, stories and questions.

Join me in creating a landscape by imagining:

The air is crisp and cold on my cheeks,
the temperature is around 0 degrees Celsius

Under a pale sky, the bog stretches as far as I can see. Piles of beige straw, broken reeds.
Patches of rust, muted golds and green sphagnum, as if the ground is one big quilt.
Fluffy heads of Cotton sedge nod quietly in a gentle breeze.
Thin plumes of fog crawl across the mire.

Silvery trunks stand as ghostly monuments or tombstones for once mighty pines.
The bark-less wood is worm-eaten and covered with patterns carved by tiny bugs.
Yet underground the tree is still alive. The roots store it’s life force, the sap, the blood.

A few blows with my axe against the dark roots reveals the secret: amber colored, sticky and full of resin. The scent of the heartwood almost burns through my nasal passages. I shave off splinters with my knife, it feels like carving a precious gem. The wood is so saturated with resin, it’s almost translucent.

In Norwegian, the process of the pine conserving itself in the bog is called Tyri.
This fat-wood used to be an important commerce good back in the day.
These pine «mummies» can be as old as 500 years.

As an artist working with smell, I was intrigued by this phenomenon. I brought the Tyri home to my alembic still, I ran a distillation of the wood shavings and extracted the aromatic oils from the pine roots.

Engaging in this project with Ensayos, I really had to ask myself,
How does one re-create the smell of a landscape?
How can I facilitate for an olfactive landscape to come alive in contact with other bodies and become meaningful for each nose?

When working with scent, I use molecules from the perfume and flavor industry as well as natural extracts of many kinds. When composing the scent «wolves in the mire» I studied a very interesting molecule called Geosmin.

Imagine a shower of rain after a very hot day.
Imagine opening your window, the smell coming through.

We humans don’t exactly have the best noses in the animal kingdom.
We don’t have a mutual language for describing the experience of scent.
We usually don’t need to rely on or sense of smell to navigate our everyday lives.
Yet scent is fundamental to us. Smell and memory are deeply connected.

When the raindrops hit the ground, bacterias in the soil react and start producing, releasing and exchanging chemicals like Geosmin and ozone. We inhale the freshness of the downpour and experience a unique sensation: «the smell of rain!» It is a scent so dear to us as a species, so connected to the survival of our food crops and the health of our soils that our capacity to detect these odorous molecules is exceptional, it is carried on through our evolution in our genes.

We can smell Geosmin in parts per trillion!
In other words, we are exceptionally good at smelling this molecule!

Lying down with my nose in the bog I smell Geosmin.
I let my fingers dig into the moss.
I pull out the sphagnum, I smell roots. seaweed, dog, bog, dog,
bogdog soilweed seadog roothub dogbog weedwolf mosstub searootbogweed…

The bog is a place of mystery and wonder.
Death-bringer and life-giver. Conserving degradation?

I recently heard an artist named Daniel Lie give a lecture about the queerness of the rotten:
In their work of sculpture landscapes, the contingency of decomposition of materials was held space for. They asked, can we use decomposition as a tool for breaking the binary:
Biomass and necromass, cherish all the states in-between?

Now, close your eyes.
Go back and imagine the bog:

Break down,
remember, exhale, retract, embrace, fill, expose, retain, lose, prepare, forget…

Put your right wrist up to your nose.

Inhale and feel welcome to accept this invitation to connect to this landscape, its stories as well as ours.

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