CBORG (Community Based Olfactory Research Group)

CBORG is a collaborative roving research team working to make sensory education and research more widely accessible and politically/artistically valuable to our communities in Chicago. Resting upon the belief that smell is a skill and way of knowing that has been long devalued by systems of power, the group was co-started by myself and researcher Jas Brooks with the intention that everyone could use more practice learning through their noses. Following, we’ve been launching CBORG on an educational note by putting on a series of scent + open-source technology workshops throughout 2019 and 2020.

We want this work to be as collaborative and woven together with the interests, capacities, and emotional/intellectual/political investments of our communities and loved ones as possible - if anyone has interest in:

-learning about any specific components of smelling/making/thinking about scent?

-any specific application of fragrance, from art to science to technology to organizing to communication to to to?

-collaboratinging on a short or long term research project with scent as a component?
we’d love to hear from you!

Photos are from our first workshop, Scenting Arduinos: DIY Diffusers, hosted at Floods Hall in April 2019. We combined intro-level fragrance blending with an intro to programming open-source microcontrollers, resulting in the creation of DIY diffusers (with an arduino microcontroller and a custom-made scent) that the participants took home.


Eau Doom is a speculative fiction olfactory board game, positing a future in which humans have finally brought catastrophe upon the planet and all plants have gone nearly extinct; players need to play cooperatively to identify different plant scents and preserve them before they're gone forever.

The game seeks to demonstrate the idea that smell can be an important addition to our collective toolkit for survival if we prioritize strengthening it. I want Eau Doom to serve as a tool people can use to train their noses and develop critical thinking around their sense of smell, as well as to begin thinking about scent as a strategy for fighting against planetary destruction.

I intended Eau Doom to be open source, meaning players are encouraged to create their own versions and submit their modifications back to me, the end-goal being to create an online archive of everyone's ideas. To that end, the online manual gives instructions on how to remake the game, including downloadable links to all game pieces.

gameboard designed by Leo Williams

Olfactory Artworks:

Forty Days
2018, scent

Forty Days is inspired by the story of Noah’s Ark, one of the earliest written accounts of massive environmental catastrophe. A smoky aquatic musk, the scent evokes the anxiety of being confined to a boat full of animals, in a world full of water, unsure about when or if land will appear again. The biblical story of Noah is heavily scented, providing an outline for the fragrance's story. God told Noah to build an ark of cypress and coat it with pitch, forming the smoky and woody contour of the scent. Filling in the shape are a heavy dose of musk for the feeling of the animal-filled ark, and aquatic notes for the never-ending rain flooding the land humans, animals, and plants once called home. Noah's thankfulness to God came in the form of burnt offerings of the animals, reinforcing the birch tar's smoke at the base of the scent. Olive oil lingers throughout it all, serving as both carrier oil and a delicate note in the fragrance, providing a glimmer of the recreated world that doves will scope out after the flood, whether or not we’ll be there to see it.

Divine warnings were given then and are being given now; a dab of this scent reminds that the oceans will be coming for us soon.

Failings in Habitats
2018, installation with scent & audio components;
collaboration with Rebecca Ladida

The piece gathers audio recording of folks attempting to pronounce the names of the land on which they live in the language of the Native peoples of these territories. This installation is set in a van, which is lined with astroturf and has a scent diffused through it.

This installation addresses our failings at speaking even basic words in Native languages and translating their knowledges: their language, but also their modes of inhabiting, their relationship to the land (botany, dendrology), and their social practices. The contrast between the contemplative nook immersed in a joyful scent and the discomfort experienced in our collective failure to honor the peoples whose land we occupy exposed through the sound recordings requires that we sit with the trouble, perhaps unsettled.

The scent was my portion of the piece - it is a blend of seven different oils of trees and plants native to Illinois. The olfactory combination of river birch, white oak, sweetgum, bald cypress, wild geranium, st. johns wort, and prairie grass evokes the feeling of honoring the land we occupy, and all the peoples who have honored these plants before us. The oils were a mixture of purchased oils (sourced sustainably) and small amounts of plant matter that I distilled myself.

more olfactory art work samples coming soon!

Family Jewels
collaboration with Leo Williams

Family Jewels is a magnification of genderless beings in the world and in our home, and an attempt to family-build through tenderly nourishing these lifeforms just as they build up and nourish us. The work is also a response to “biological” arguments for the existence of the gender binary and of sexual reproduction as family building requirements - as a couple who exists outside of those ideas, we seek to show, celebrate, and cradle life forms that wriggle out of boxed-in conceptions of gender and reproduction. Fermentation became a parenting practice for us; caring for these creatures calls for love, regularity, and careful observation. Maintaining healthy ferments is daily work and we have different relationships and responsibilities with each one of our jars - watching our kefir grains grow with each new batch, saving a little bit of kvass to make the next batch ferment quicker - even different jars of the same type of ferment behave differently and reveal their personalities to us little by little. Parenting is essentially just an investment in the future and ferments are the future we're invested in, a future of embracing and caring for the microscopic organisms that make up our bodies and our world and folding them tenderly into our concepts of family. 
Link to video here.
Other video work can be found here.