Camphora (Breath Work)
Camphora (Breath Work) is a gallery installation that seeks to draw connections between material worlds and the molecular odours they emanate; reminding us how aromas trigger a powerful recognition of our inseparable connections and participation within the wider ecosphere. The work consists of three elements: a carved slab of milled 'unfinished' Camphor Laurel wood, mounted just off the ground and inscribed with a complex array of organic patterns reminiscent of grass roots, alveoli and sub-bark insect trails; a copper dish on a stand containing Camphor Laurel wood chips, emanating a rich odour; and on the wall behind a printed poem. (See below).
Exhibited as part of "Catch a Whiff (Olfactory Ecologies)"
Curated by Lowana Skye Davies
The Old Lockup Gallery, IN | artist run initiative
4 First Avenue Maroochydore 4558, March 24-27, 2022, 10am-2pm
www.theoldlockup.net | Instagram: @in_ari | Facebook: @INxOLU
Many years ago I inherited a Cinnamomum Camphora (Camphor Laurel) tree in our Australian yard - which was subsequently felled as a ‘Category 3’ urban weed. Its spare slabs (i.e., those not already turned into stairs, bench tops or furniture) remain, years later, stacked in the shadows of my studio, lying inconspicuously amongst forgotten artworks, raw materials and dust.
Yet still today, breaking the skin of one of those ageing Camphora’s slabs calls forth a stupendous cascade of invisible oily molecules: a heady odour that leaves me ‘gasping with breath’. Involuntarily I’m drawn to nose-breathe, despite the headiness - maybe triggered by sensory memories of applied analgesics, repellents or past life cleaning products. Temporarily I find myself lost to Camphora's wickedly vaporous toxicities, eclipsed in a heady do or die moment of involuntary, yet precarious ‘breath work’.
Breath work “breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth” - is an olfactory experience that recalls our inseparable connections and participation within the wider ecosphere (what Tim Morton calls the ‘symbiotic real’). Whilst textbook breath work may often assume neutral or ‘clean’ air aromas, its effects may become more vivid in the presence of coveted fragrances or heady perfumes that calm and ground the body and promote focus.
The artwork Camphora (breath work) presents one of these lost slabs, its skin, scarred rhythmically with a rapidly spinning blade to reveal all its heady aromas - suggesting the marking, tunnelling, and gouging of burrowing insects (although normally not in this their most repellent, malodorous of foods). Accompanied by a printed poem and a dish of freshly minted Camphor chips emanating heady scents, gallery visitors are invited to engage in their own silent, breath work - becoming quietly enveloped within the lingering aromas of Camphora's rhythmically scarified form.
Lie back on concrete
Feel the power of a whole planet pulling you into its core
If it's raining, open your mouth and swallow a piece of cloud
If it’s windy, inhale scents drifting in the evening breeze.
Draw upon those aromas, as deeply as you can
Feel them becoming part of your body
Atmospheres that once passed through bats, dragonflies and cats
the exhalation of seaweed and trees
With your back on the ground
facing the celestial vault
feel the world turn
(Adapted from an extract by Nahum, 2021, The World’s Turn)