Olfactory Art: /FOREST BATH

/FOREST BATH by M Dougherty is an intermedia/olfactory art piece that was recently on display at the gallery Olfactory Art Keller. M sent me a vial of the scent and it is perfect: the smell of a forest. The dirt, the fir needles, the fresh wood, the mushroomy living air. The piece takes its name and its concept from the practice of “forest bathing,” or Shinrin Yoku, which emerged as a formal practice in Japan in the 1980’s. Simply being in a forest prompts all kinds of physiological benefits in our bodies, much of which is thanks to the scents given off by trees. M recreated these scents and infused them into beautiful sculptures—the sculptures make me think of handmade soaps, but actually they’re made of mycelium (which are basically the vast networks of mushroom roots underneath a forest floor) encased in resin and wax. The objects are scented, but the scent was also pumped into the air on the sidewalk outside so that passersby and those not comfortable going inside due to COVID could still experience the benefits of a forest bath.

What strikes me most about /FOREST BATH is that it represents a generous, compassionate impulse—a gesture of care for their audience. Especially during this year of stress and isolation and stir-craziness inside our homes, this idea of bringing the benefits of a forest bath to city residents feels like showing up at your sick friend’s doorstep with a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Beautiful concept and beautiful work.