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Molecules of Decay workshop

Last month, a workshop co-hosted by DCN fellow Susana Cámara Leret and ‘smeller’ Joy Milne, who has the extra-ordinary ability to smell Parkinson’s Disease, was held at the Alt-w LAB to explore ways in which smells encode memories. Attendees used pens and coloured pencils to document on a grid the memories, feelings and words evoked by 8 mysterious smell samples offered up to them by Susana.


Susana prepares smell samples for workshop attendees.


As each sample was handed to workshop attendees, they were reminded that smells are multi-layered: at first they may be offensive but keep taking the smell in slowly and they might find they change quite a bit. From human sweat to plant pheromones, molecules can be found in the composition of many everyday smells. As we establish associations to these, experiences from the medical setting might extend beyond the walls of the hospital, calling for other articulations in matters of care.


Joy ‘The Sniffer’ Milne has the ability to smell Parkinson’s Disease


The group talked about smells that brought on memories of old workplaces, a GP’s office, being on a farm as a child and those that evoked an emotion or the strange sensation of knowing a smell but being unable to conjure up the word to describe it. Seaweed, petrol, sweaty feet, garlic, cumin were some of the words attendees used to describe the 8 mystery smells. At the end of the workshop, everyone learned what they had been smelling all along: molecules found in types of human decay.


A workshop attendee documents his memories and thoughts after smelling each sample.


The aim of the DCN fellowships are to promote and highlight the working activity and research interests found in the DCN through a programme of dynamic art and science commissions. Development of work using current research practices is key to each fellowship in the programme. The fellowships seek to build relationships between artists, staff and external research partners to demonstrate best practice and contribute to dialogues about the benefits of creative practice in clinical environments.