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“Smellscape” Artist Attempts to Capture the Unique Scent of a City

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Of the five primary senses, smell might be the most underappreciated. But that's not the case with scent-obsessed artist and researcher Sissel Tolaas. She specializes in the practice of cataloguing and replicating the world’s smells, essentially putting experiences in a bottle so they can be uncorked later, sort of like an olfactory Willy Wonka. For over a decade now, CityLab reports, Tolaas and her nose have traveled to 35 cities and counting, documenting not the sights and sounds, but the scents of each location.

Tolaas and other smell-obsessed researchers from across disciplines work out of a unique laboratory, called the Re_Search Lab, in Berlin. Inside are 6,763 distinctive smells contained in identical aluminum boxes, each of which emits “something,” a suitably vague term to cover all manner of smells.

The extensive archive is home base, but Tolaas goes far and wide to collect its contents, from Mexico City to Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. The Grand Arts council invited her to make a “smellscape” of Missouri’s biggest city and its similarly named neighbor. After some firsthand research—which, yes, involved sticking her nose into plenty of unusual places—Tolaas organized “a smell scavenger hunt of sorts,” during which curious locals could scratch and sniff cards marked “Municipal Court” or “Public Levee Space at Kaw Point” imbued with the carefully recreated scent of those locations. Not all the city smells are ones the visitors might choose to inhale on a normal basis (refer to Tolaas’s exhibit in Paris, which heavily featured whiffs of ashtrays and slaughterhouses), but they’re all as much a part of the city as its very streets and storefronts.

When scent-mapping a new city, Tolaas doesn’t go it alone. She calls on volunteers to help her sniff around. In a recent collaboration with Harvard University, local student volunteers in Shanghai helped her identify 500 unique scents that comprised the city—mostly food, but also odors from nature, street traffic, and even the people themselves. Tolaas is rigorous in her methods, making multiple passes of the same area at different times of day to ensure that the smells she’s identifying are truly a constant presence. She’s convinced that with such attention to detail, a person should be able to navigate a neighborhood blindly, with only their nose to guide them.

There’s a fascinating science behind all this smell curation, made possible by the Re_Search Lab’s close partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances, commercial creator of tastes and scents, who provide Tolaas with her equipment. Headspace technology allows Tolaas to capture the odor molecules of whatever objects she’s brought back to the lab, which she then works to recreate with synthetic compounds. The interdisciplinary nature of Tolaas’s work makes sense considering her background. She was raised and educated in Iceland, Norway, Poland, and Russia, is fluent in nine languages, and trained in both chemistry and the arts. Tolaas thrives in the space she has created for herself between art and science

Having worked so long with smells, Tolaas no longer judges them to be good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the way we quotidian sniffers do. She shuns any “hierarchy” of smells, telling CityLab that “every smell has the potential of being interesting.” Anecdotally considering the way most cities smell on an average day, it’s probably best to keep an open mind along with those open nostrils.

[h/t CityLab]

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euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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geography
Mount Jackson Loses Spot as UK's Tallest Mountain After Satellite Reveals Measurement Error
euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
euphro, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Geography textbook writers, take note: The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has just made a major correction to its old data. As Independent reports, satellite imagery reveals that Mount Hope in the British Atlantic Territory is 1236 feet taller than previously believed, unseating Mount Jackson as the UK’s tallest peak.

BAS realized the old height was incorrect after surveying mountains in Britain’s Antarctic territory using satellite technology. Inaccurate measurements pose a threat to planes flying over the mountains, and with the mapping project BAS intended to make the route safer for aircraft.

Prior to the survey, Mount Jackson was thought to be the tallest mountain in the British Atlantic Territory and the greater UK at 10,446 feet, the BBC reports. But after reviewing the new elevation data, BAS found that Mount Hope bests it by just 180 feet. Reaching 10,627 feet at its summit, Mount Hope is officially Britain’s tallest mountain.

Historically, mountains were measured on the ground using basic math equations. By measuring the distance between two points at the base of a mountain and calculating the angle between the top of the mountain and each point, researchers could estimate its height. But this method leaves a lot of room for error, and today surveyors use satellites circling the globe to come up with more precise numbers.

Because they’re both located in Antarctica, neither of the two tallest mountains in the UK is a popular climbing destination. British thrill-seekers usually choose Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, as their bucket-list mountain of choice—but at just 4413 at its highest point, climbing it would be a breeze compared to conquering Mount Hope.

[h/t Independent]

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Courtesy of Sotheby's
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History
Found: A Rare Map of Australia, Created During the 17th Century
Courtesy of Sotheby's
Courtesy of Sotheby's

More than 40 years before Captain James Cook landed on Australia’s eastern coast in 1770, renowned Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu created an early map of the Land Down Under. Using geographical information gleaned from Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in the 1640s, it was the first map to include the island state of Tasmania and name New Zealand, and the only one to call Australia “Nova Hollandia.”

Very few copies—if any—of the 1659 map, titled Archipelagus Orientalis (Eastern Archipelago), were thought to have survived. But in 2010, a printing was discovered in a Swedish attic. After being restored, the artifact is newly on display at the National Library of Australia, in the capital city of Canberra, according to news.com.au.

The seller’s identity has been kept under wraps, but it’s thought that the map belonged to an antiquarian bookseller who closed his or her business in the 1950s. For decades, the map sat amidst other papers and books until it was unearthed in 2010 and put up for auction.

The National Library acquired the 17th century wall map in 2013 for approximately $460,000. After a lengthy restoration process, it recently went on display in its Treasures Gallery, where it will hang until mid-2018.

As for other surviving copies of the map: a second version was discovered in a private Italian home and announced in May 2017, according to Australian Geographic. It ended up selling for more than $320,000.

[h/t news.com.au]

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