A Rose By Any Other Name

There used to be a time when the only things that looked like roses were roses, and the only things that smelled like roses were roses.  Those were simpler times.  You could say something like “Hey you, hand me that rose,” or “Hey, I really like the scent of rose” and people would know exactly what you were talking about. 

But then, things got all weird. 

Someone realized you didn’t actually have to have a rose in your hand, or within view, or within your smellscape to talk roses.  You could talk about them in an abstract sense.  It became less about the rose itself, and more about the idea of a rose, the Platonic form, “rose” as an object in the mind instead of an object in the world. Now the visual/solid/physical form of the rose could be represented in various ways, you could portray it symbolically, maybe with a picture, or a sculpture, or in origami form, or even with just the word “rose,” and to the person on the viewing/hearing end, in theory, all of these forms of representation still linked back to the same physical flower, at least in a general sense.  And of course, there are various levels of abstraction to play with. You could make a cloth rose that nearly mimics the appearance of a rose, you could take a high-resolution color image of the rose with your fancy camera, or you could make a tiny, minimalist, black-and-white drawing of a rose with nothing more than a few petals and a few thorns and convey the notion of rosiness as efficiently as possible.  Yet for all these visual representations, they all have the same word: “Rose,” and they all hearken back to the same physical entity, a rose.

Well, the same abstraction-weirdness also happened in the world of scent.  For many years, if you wanted rose scent, you needed a rose.  You could dry the petals and crush them up and they would retain the rose scent, but you still had most of the physical object there, albeit in altered form, to provide the scent.  But then the alchemists got into the action.  Is there a way to leave the physical form behind, and take only the essence of the rose?  Separate the scent from the plant itself, set it free from the fetters of physical form?  Through the process of distillation, just such a feat was accomplished.  By putting roses into an alembic and applying heat, the essence could soar while the thorny backbone was trapped behind.  Even better, the essence could be captured in liquid form and stored for later.  Less than 1/1000 of the mass of a rose comprises its essential oil.  The notion of rose scent is now captured in a bottle. 

But this is only the first level of extraction/abstraction.   

After the scent/rose has crossed into has crossed into thought space, it can be represented in a variety of ways, picked apart, only certain aspects focused upon.  This can happen in real space, focus only on the shape, the color, the form, etc.  In scent, this is more easily graphable (spider plot? in the shape of a rose??).  You just represent some portion of the odorous molecules that make up the scent, more or less for better or worse representation.  But then it gets weird because other unrelated molecules can also give the impression of rose.  Combos of unrelated molecules can get even closer.   Yet for all these cosmic representations, they all have the same word: “Rose,” and they all hearken back to the same scent, that of an actual rose.

This project explores the spectrum that connects reality and abstraction in the visual/physical realm as well as the world of scent.  As we replace reality with abstraction, what is lost, what is gained, and did we even notice the substitution?

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