Mare Memoria – Floriade

In the soil of the Floriade grounds, countless microorganisms live in a different reality: a salty phantom sea. The microorganisms, also called diatoms, think they still live in the Zuiderzee, while this area has been closed off from the Wadden Sea for 90 years.

In the work Mare Memoria, de Onkruidenier takes the audience into the world of these organisms and collectively depicts the hidden presence of the sea. With a site-specific new work, the artists also question the way we in the Netherlands continuously control the water by controlling and measuring the water level. How do we actually relate to the way we constantly refer to the NAP, how we use words, letters and numbers to interpret the world around us in a language with which we think we can fathom nature? In contrast, they propose an alternative perspective. Can smell, color and different materialities support us to experience our living environment in a sensory way? Can our bodies again serve as a measuring stick in how we relate to the landscape?

In the artistic research, de Onkruidenier became interested in the dynamics of smell. A smell that is difficult to describe, but very recognizable, is the smell of the sea. This smell now appears to play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Scientists have discovered that “the smell of the sea” is caused by a tiny organism that is so abundant that it has a significant effect on the planet’s climate through the large amounts of sulfur gases they produce. One of those gases, dimethyl sulfide or DMS, we recognize as the smell of the sea.

We spoke to scent artist Frank Bloem, who took us through his research on the role of scent in our environment. He told us that the smell of sulfur is not only connected to the sea, but also to Brussels sprouts or rose petals. The cabbage family has its origins on the coast. A common ancestor grows there: the sea cabbage. Perhaps cabbages still carry the sulfur compound as a salty memory. But sulfur is also important in gypsum or lime compounds found in the walls of our homes, as well as in the shells of marine organisms.

In the research, de Onkruidenier also came into contact with a scientist who has been looking at silt for years. Bentish ecologist Harm van der Geest describes the feeling in which the microorganisms find themselves as in a jar of hair gel; enclosed by extremely large hydrogen molecules, much larger than themselves. De Onkruidenier depicts this reality through scented gels that activate the phantom sea through scents that we put together in collaboration with Frank Bloem.

Moreover, with the installation Mare Memoria, de Onkruidenier shows various elements connected to this sweet and salty ecosystem. In a world where sea levels are rising and the soil is sinking beneath our feet, de Onkruidenier questions how we as humans can relate to this. Can we learn to adapt to the changing landscape rather than the other way around? Can we, like those microorganisms, generate a salty memory in our bodies? Mare Memoria activates the salty memory of the organisms in the sludge and thus speculates on future scenarios for humans.

The installation of various rulers creates the suggestion of a measurable and controllable landscape. Like a folding rule, the work zigzags through Utopia. It is likewise reminiscent of the different heights of waves that come ashore and break off on the coastline. The rulers themselves incorporate a variety of colors and objects. It makes visual which parts, smells and forms are part of the SWEET – SWEAT ecosystem, forming a visual series of associations and narratives. What can we find the sea in?