Smell the peatlands

From our limited verticality and perception, we can usually only experience a fragment of peatlands from their watery surface. The bogs and fens of Australia, North America, and Norway are diverse in their ecologies, cultural meanings, and conservation status. They were sites of inquiry, connection, and meditation during Ensayos residencies with artists, indigenous activists, and scientists. As a result of this creative fieldwork, three international Ensayos “pods” conjured gifts of scent from their local peatlands to contribute to the multisensory experience of Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol.

Norway © Randi Nygard

There are many smells, intra-actions, and life forms within all of these peatlands that we are not privy to. We give you these olfactory offerings as speculative dives into the depths of peatlands—sniffing and thinking with all of the hidden layers, stored matter, and lively interspecies relations that make them crucial sites of eco-cultural heritage.

Amenia, New York, United States

The bogs and fens of this region are marked by loss—either exploited a century ago or lost to contemporary eyes that are not yet attuned to their depth and importance to climate-future. This project marks their coming out as extraordinary, carbon-sequestering hydrological engineers of immense cultural and ecological value. We have created two scents, presented in blown glass vessels, that represent speculative olfactory tours of the living upper layer and fossil peat below.


A full-body submersion into the damp ecosystem of vital, water-retaining mosses, and waterlogged flora. An invitation to imagine the uneven contours of Sphagnum capitula as perfectly designed aqueous carrier bags. A call to drip, pour, leak, slip, slide, and become slippery.


A dense meshwork of the musky, malted, medicinal, and tarry saps, excretions, and notes that connect peatland life through the aromatic molecules they produce within their digestive, root, and trunk systems. They are knotted together by an acidic note mimicking the uniquely low pH of the bog that makes all this richness possible.


Carina Cheung (glass fabrication), Christy Gast (artist), Camila Marambio (curator), Denise Milstein (writer/sociologist); Agustine Zegers (olfactory artist).

Bogerudmyra, Oslo, Norway

Wolves in the mire

As we press our fingers into the peat moss, a strong scent of ocean, wet soil, dried grass, seaweed, pine, and rain, arises. There are hints of wet wool and animals, like a dog, or a wolf. It is fresh, earthy, dark, resinous, fertile, and rich.

What do the bog and the ocean and a wolf have in common?

The bog is a deep culture-nature carbon archive, conserving the memory of how humans and animals interacted with the landscape, through pollen, wood, charcoal, plants, trees, animals, and artifacts, buried in its peat.

Scent arises through contact between molecules in the air and our nose. Some of these molecules, like the ones from pine resin, can also form clouds and create rain.

The fresh smell of wet soil after rain, geosmin or petrichor, is one of the odors that our nose is best at detecting. It is made by bacterias, works like an antidepressant, and it is deeply attractive.


Randi Nygård (artist), Karolin Tampere (curator), Simon Daniel Tegnander Wenzel (olfactory artist).

Experimental Sphagnum plots © Christy Gast

Minjerribah/Terrangeri, Quandamooka Country (Moreton Bay), Queensland, Australia

Knowledge is a gift

This vessel
kissed by the sweet blush of ungaire
is welcoming hands
to coil, knot and weave stories
back into being.

It carries a scent
that defies linear time
and calls for deep listening
to unbroken connections.

It is medicine for feeling
Naree Budjong Djara

Damp archives being aired in a salty breeze.
Charred bark embracing the swamp paperbark’s healing essence.
Warm resin oozing between grass tree’s unshed leaves,
shielding against the threat of bushfire.
A faint note of dark amber honey,
intimate with the chorus of heathland blooms.

Smokey molecules kindle a knowing within.
It is the scent of jarlo.
Quandamooka people walk with fire
in patterns of knowledge held in the land.
A slow cool burn ignites understories,
gifting wallum scented signals to vital canopies
of generations to come.

Through this smokey portal
messages from the subtropical swamps
will linger in your being
and in Turba Tol.


ungaire - swamp reed
Naree Budjong Djara - My Mother Earth
jarlo - fire
wallum - heathland and swamp ecosystem of coastal south-east Queensland extending into north-eastern New South Wales


Elisa Jane Carmichael (Quandamooka artist), Freja Carmichael (Quandamooka curator), Sonja Carmichael (Quandamooka artist), Jasper Coleman (ceramicist), Caitlin Franzmann (artist), Renee Rossini (ecologist), Jarred Wright (glass artist).