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S(c)en(t)sory Foraging

Research project Tracing the eros of olfaction in multi-species metabolisms

S(c)en(t)story Foraging is a transdisciplinary research project in design and molecular biology which ventures into the sense-ability and in/tangibility of olfaction in multi-species metabolisms. Odorants are fundamental within metabolic relations, ingested, digested, excreted through the living, the non-living and the semi-living. This project positions olfaction as a transcorporeal, queer eros; a haptic interspecies communication.

Head of project

Natarsha Bates
Postdoctoral fellow, postdoctoral position

Project overview

Project period:

2023-08-21 2025-08-20

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Molecular Biology, UmArts, Umeå Institute of Design

Research area

Design, Molecular biology and genetics

Project description

Olfaction is the sensation experienced by the caress of volatile organic compounds on the membranes of cells. Ephemeral and intangible, these chemicals are exchanged at all scales, from the nano to the atmospheric, flowing between microbes, fungi, plants, animals, soil, air & water. This project progresses via a web of scent-based foraging actions oriented towards understanding how odour chemicals move between and through bodies and ecosystems. Some of these actions engage with the metabolomics of the micro-human volatilome, exploring how microbes and human cells sense, consume and excrete volatile chemicals, their actions within various ecological niches within the human body and the microgovernmentality of holobiont relations.

Other foraging actions involve creative, sensory and philosophical explorations of the labour and agency of odour chemicals in the metabolic relations of interspecies communication and consumption, drawing on Luce Irigaray’s eros as a creative, queer posthuman ethics and Hannah Landecker, Myra Hird and Monica Bakke’s propositions that metabolism is a political process of consumption and transformation of chemistry, biology and geology.

Other actions investigate the role of smell in change in ecological systems outside the human body. Smell is fundamental to food, culture, memory, communication, and health. It is affective: acting directly on bodies, bypassing language. Rapid changes in smellscapes have strong physiological effects. Mining, urbanisation, farming, fishing, transportation, shipping, etc radically alter the materiality of environments and their smells, shifting how human and non-human inhabitants understand, navigate and live in them. Odorants are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and climate change and are critical, often neglected aspects of environmental and cultural change, grief, loss and hope. Through eco-sensory community workshops, “make and talk” spaces, the role of smell in multispecies experiences of place-making, tracing how olfaction contributes to distress caused by environmental change and loss of place.

Yet other actions investigate how transdisciplinary methods might be generated through interdisciplinary collaborations between olfactory researchers to imagine and create more just and regenerative futures.


I pay my respects to the Sami people of Ubmeje, Sápmi, the land on which this project is undertaken, and their Elders past, present and emerging.

Latest update: 2023-11-22