Projects    >   The Geosmine Yeast

The Geosmine Yeast

Soft Sedation

Project team: Erasmushogeschool Brussel, Open Biolab Brussels, Dr. Tom Peeters, Dr Stijn De Graeve, Dr Jolien De Munck

Location: Watou

Year: 2024

Are you familiar with ‘geosmin’? It’s the scent you smell after a heavy rain. It’s the aroma of wet earth, of water; for some, it represents decay, for others, safety. Biologically, we have evolved to immediately recognize this scent among hundreds of others. We can detect it a thousand times better than sharks can smell blood. The place where we perceive the scent can evoke strong feelings of nostalgia or disgust. Geosmin unlocks our connection to our genetic past.

In his installation, Matthijs De Block links the scent of geosmin to biotechnology, specifically to the fascinating world of yeasts. Today, scientists and industries use genetically modified yeast to produce a variety of scents and flavors. This is possible because the entire genome of yeast is known. Thanks to the knowledge of ingenious modifications in the genetic structure of yeast, it can be considered a model organism. The identity and properties of yeast can thus become endlessly diverse.


This genetic variation is displayed in the exhibition space with geosmin. De Block’s installation, “Soft Sedation; Synthetic Synaesthesia,” does exactly that: it disperses geosmin produced by yeast throughout the exhibition space. The work explores how our genes influence our emotional responses. What emotion does it evoke in you?

By placing his work in an old brewery, De Block speaks to the traditional identity of yeast. The historical role of microorganisms in human culture and technology becomes visible. It is both a nod to the past and a glimpse into the future. Today, yeasts are at the forefront of genetic manipulation. But how will yeast change the connection with ourselves, our cultures, and our ecosystems?