photos by Mila Chorbadzhieva
Based on an original idea by Eindhoven based artist Peter Nagelkerke to create a smell map of the former factory grounds, Baltan Laboratories took the initiative to create an artistic and locative multisensory experience built on the tangible and ethereal industrial heritage of the Strijp-S area.
Klara Ravat (DE/ES), Pieter Verhees (NL) and Angela de Weijer (NL) were invited to collaborate on the former Philips factory grounds starting in late 2017. Through a series of brainstorms, Skype-calls, field days and short residencies they started researching what the area must have smelled and sounded like in the past, and how this translates into present and future.
Ravat, Verhees and De Weijer discovered a shared interest in time traveling and started experimenting with ways to convey alternate realities stretching beyond pure nostalgia. Conceptually, they aim to connect or disconnect the public from the present-day and latch onto several possible scenarios, skipping through the larger fabric of time and space.
After a field day in February ’18, the team decided to build a wearable gravitating between a micro theater and an astronaut’s helmet. This construction has several advantages; both the climate and experience are more controllable as the helmet addresses multiple senses of the wearer within the given context (olfaction, hearing, seeing/not seeing, touch), as well as setting the wearer apart from other people in the area going about their usual business.
During a residency week in July, the team started putting together all necessary technical components and made a couple of primary indoor experiments. However, the ‘suit’ was still to be connected to lab-power and not yet portable by the end of the week.
Over the next months, troubleshooting and additional testing took place at Verhees’ houseboat studio. De Weijer joined work sessions to test location services and look into programming for sound. In November, the entire team got together again at Baltan for another work week. The suit was now portable, enabling the artists to test run several parts of the route while the GPS functionality was being finetuned. During the week De Weijer guided the team around Strijp-S for a historical research tour; providing some additional inspiration and a breeding ground for the storytelling, olfactory and sonic components of the wearable. Verhees worked on improving the hardware, while Ravat and De Weijer built on the narrative ingredients with their respective intangible materials. By the end of the second short residency, the team was able to conclude phase one with a portable wearable which triggers site-specific scent and sound compositions for a preliminary route (preliminary).
For further development of the multisensory wearable, the team got together for two shorter work periods in early 2019, taking the internal technical development and content to the next level.
In February five out of sixteen potential locations were selected to form a route, bringing the length of the walk to around twenty minutes. The route starts in front of the Natlab terrace, continues towards Leidingstraat, Torenallee and Veem-building, before returning safely to Natlab. Most of the sound and scent got a complete overhaul and new compositions have been created for the added locations. Ravat and De Weijer aimed to sync their practices in order to reach a collective composition and crossover between the senses. Verhees refined the technical division of the content across the route corresponding to several waypoints, which trigger different outputs inside of the wearable. Due to the density of buildings on Strijp-S, the suit’s GPS calibrations still needs tweaking.
Up until the April residency, the project had been referred to as Olfactory Oldfactory but was subsequently renamed to Cosmic Travel Kit in preparation for sending it out into the world for the first time during Dutch Design Week 2019. During the second work week this spring, the artists put continuous work in honing the content and technical side of the wearable as well as shooting video documentation.
Baltan Laboratories also invited four test persons who had the first opportunity to experience Cosmic Travel Kit from an outsider perspective. For participants, just getting ready for the walk by getting assistance in putting on the suit, going out on the street where regular body movement, the field of vision and aural sensitivity are somewhat restrained is already a different experience from the day today. Out on the route, the user encounters a surprising take on their immediate surroundings and may perceive a mild sensory overload plus a suggestive blurring of timelines. Walking with the Cosmic Travel Kit at Strijp-S definitely does not go unnoticed, and seeing the travelers’ interactions with passers-by is a joy to watch.
Verhees, Ravat and De Weijer are looking forward to further preparing ‘Cosmic Travel Kit’ for Dutch Design Week and hope to give more people the opportunity to become fellow travelers!
About the artists
Klara Ravat is an olfactory artist and experimental filmmaker. By opposing the division
between the realm of memory and the realm of experience, Ravat absorbs the tradition of remembrance art into daily practice. www.klararavat.com
Pieter Verhees is a maker-artist fascinated working on cross-over projects between theater, art, new media and technology. He is fascinated by digital technology enabling us to manipulate everything that is visible, audible and sensible. www.pieterverhees.nl
Angela de Weijer is an audiovisual artist. She composes for imagination and creates multidisciplinary experiences that stretch the boundaries of perception in the (in)audible spectrum. www.missmilivolt.com