To simply address the scope of Sarah Meyohas‘ first large-scale exhibition misses the point. There is, of course, the multi-sensory and multimedia components: a signature scent in the air, sculptures, a photograph, a film and virtual reality experiences. There’s also the fact that, to make this a reality, 16 workers picked over 100,000 petals from 10,000 roses, hand-selecting the one’s they thought were most beautiful (presented on site as an archival wall). As far as the breadth of it all, “Cloud of Petals” demonstrates Meyohas’ ability to fulfill something almost extravagantly vast in imagination. But the exhibition, on right now at Red Bull Arts New York, also contains interwoven analyses—sometimes escalating or retreating—on technology, labor and beauty. Across two floors, guests feel clear connectivity between disparate pieces.
“The very earliest thoughts [about this concept] came from my dreams — petals and pixels, petals as pixels, in swarms and twirling,” Meyohas explains to CH. “The dreams were rudimentary — they’re just brief visions. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but these images kept coming back. I started to think about why I couldn’t get them out of my mind… Interestingly, those early images and dreams are a very basic version of the virtual reality pieces, which were the last part of the project to be created.” When walking through the space, visitors must first confront the archive wall of 3,289 petals and the sculptures of antiquated telephony components exaggerated by two-way mirrors. These tactile manifestations had to occur well before the artist would fully immerse herself into the digital world.
Much of the creation took place at Bell Works, a new multi-purpose space in Holmdel, New Jersey—designed by Eero Saarinen, it once was headquarters of the telephone monolith, Bell Labs). As for how she got there, Meyohas says that she simply asked. “Somerset Development is a really forward-thinking firm,” she continues. “The mission of Somerset Development is to reimagine, reposition, and redevelop sites that will improve quality of life while evoking a genuine sense of culture and soul.” They’re not kidding. They understood what I was doing, and fully supported the project in every way possible. It was inspiring to see how they are reviving Bell Labs into Bell Works, successfully.” Not only did the 16 workers pluck and save here, Meyohas filmed here and digitized the petals.
From the 100,000 distinct rose petals that were harvest and documented, Meyohas fed them in an artificial intelligence algorithm or generative adversarial net, that is capable of creating new, unique petals—forever. This algorithm—and data set—were employed in the VR pieces. After putting on the headset, each experience (one of which is done lying down) includes thousands of generated petals in an explosive, colorful context. This rounds out the physical to photographic then filmic to virtual progression of the experience.
Filtering through the air of the entire exhibition, a scent has been released to accompany what one sees. Rose meets vanilla and musk, and for this Meyohas had a collaborator. “Celine Barel is a perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances,” she says. “I had just worked on creating an installation at the headquarters of IFF for a scent that she developed, so it seemed natural for that collaboration to go in the other direction. I learned from Celine that there are a great variety of scents associated with the rose—just as there is a huge variety in the physical color and shape!” Barel developed the fragrance through dialogue with the artist, specifically addressing feelings she wanted to evoke. Meyohas wanted the scent to call petals to mind, in an almost intoxicating way.
“I used the Rose Water oil for its fresh and generous petally smell,” Barel says, “backed by Rose Absolute Turkey, for its richer and full bloom effect. To be romantic, I mounted the rose accord on a musk pedestal, and underneath it, very subtly, a hint of vanilla bean absolute to give addiction without smelling sweet. The clove like part (eugenol) of natural vanilla is echoing the same spicy facet found in the Rose absolute.” At no point does the scent overpower the experience. Rather, everything feels presented in a balanced way: colorful and muted, real and digital, old and new.
As conceptual as the exhibition may be, it’s very easy simply to enjoy.
“Cloud of Petals” runs now through 10 December at Red Bull Arts New York.
Images courtesy of Lance Brewer