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Resurrecting the Sublime: digital reconstruction of the now extinct Hibiscadelphus wilderianus Rock, on the southern slopes of Mount Haleakalā, Maui, Hawaii, imagined around 1912 as colonial cattle farming destroyed the indigenous forest.
We've lost some parts of our natural world. Swathes of plants and animals have been consumed by evolution, shifting climates or the often-damaging expansion of humankind.
For a moment, though, London's iconic Barbican center will let you smell a fragment of our lost history. In the corner of a new AI exhibit, a cuboid hood dangles from the ceiling. Inside are four nozzles that slowly release carefully-chosen fragrances into the air around you.
Bark. Pine. Mint. I'm no smell expert, but these are the words that sprang to mind as I slowly inhaled the odors.
The artificial blend is, for now, our best guess at what Hibiscadelphus wilderianus, a tree that once stood on the Hawaiian island of Maui, used to smell like. A small rock sits to the right of the nozzles, hinting at the ancient lava fields where the last specimen was plucked from in 1912. It's a modest visual aid, which is why some virtual environments are included in a short documentary that plays on a loop nearby. Taken as a whole, the installation is powerful enough to drown out the rest of the exhibit and, for a brief moment, transport you to another time and place entirely.
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