Kindred Spirits is a project developed alongside addiction clients and staff from Mistral Rehabilitation Clinic in The Hague (NL), investigating the construction and experience of ‘health narratives’ through the time traveling quality of smell memory and design fictions.
A smell is a chemical detection of molecules, light enough to evaporate and reach our noses yet when we smell something, our emotional response precedes any understanding of the scent, as our olfactory system is intrinsically linked to the limbic system, or region of the brain that operates memory and emotions. Only a handful of molecules compose all the smells in the world, yet it is our experiences that give them meaning through the associations we establish with them. Using this underlying structure of smells in nature, the notion of ‘Smell Webs’ was created, leading to the design of “The Smell-Memory Kit”. Containing eight naturally interrelated molecules, the kit facilitates a series of smelling exercises which prompt Mistral’s clients to share their smell memories, evoked by specific molecules. In this manner, a molecule such as Methyl Mercaptan, found in spoiled refrigerated chicken, marijuana or faeces, is naturally linked to Methyl Anthranilate, characteristic of the smell of Jasmine oil, but also found in the smell of faeces. Now used within the clinic’s patient intake procedure, these exercises trigger the emotional recollection and exchange of fragments from past experiences as well as the construction of future memories, as the smells become ‘the object of the conversation’ between patients.
The resulting sensory experiences were used to discuss the impact of the physical space on the well-being of clients and staff, to imagine possible interventions within the systems and services provided in Mistral. This led to the co-creation of the Kindred Spirits species, design probes inspired by psychological modelling principles which opened up conversations about underlying behaviours and motivations surrounding treatment. In this manner, the resulting 3D printed creatures are imagined as “companion species” populating the clinic’s ecosystem whilst acting out the behaviours, compulsions and acquired obsessions from the clients, as rovers of their emotional experiences.
In an interplay between the mundane and the fantastic, the project therefore balances real needs with imagined desires, building on sensory experiences to encourage the contemplation of future alternatives within therapy.
The project was realised as part of a Research Associateship at Design Academy Eindhoven, within the context of the CRISP (Creative Industry Scientific Programme) G-Motiv project which explores the use of game elements for behavioural change, such as in addiction therapy. It was realised in collaboration with Delft Technical University, Healthcare provider Brijder and International Flavours and Fragrances. Anatomical illustrations for the Kindred Spirits series were produced by medical illustrator Maartje Kunen.
We would like to thank Bernardo Fleming (IFF) and Berend Hofman (Mistral/Brijder) for their support, as well as all the clients from Mistral who contributed with their life stories throughout the development of the project.