Jacob von Uexhull proposed that even though different species share the same
environment, they each have different ‘umwelten’ or ‘surrounding worlds’. This project
aims to gives us a view of the umwelt of the dog – or the environment/surroundings from
the canine perspective [Horowitz, 2009].
As humans we interact with the world around us relying primarily on visual information.
This gives us a perspective of our environment from an anthropocentric viewpoint. Many
of us are not aware of the different sensory potentials that other animals possess, which
paint a very different picture of the world around us. We wish to raise awareness of this
aspect of sensory perception by using the dog, an animal that has been ubiquitous in the
human home environment for centuries, as a model.
When compared to humans, dogs have olfactory epitheliums with a larger surface area
and contain 40 times more olfactory receptors. They also have a specialized Jacobsen’s
organ that helps them detect pheromones. All this gives them an ability to smell around
1000 times better than humans. Dogs have an estimated 220 million olfactory receptor
neurons in comparison to 2-5 million in humans, and show a corresponding improvement
in behavioral tests involving odor sensation [Schoon 1997; Szetei et al., 2003]. This
heightened sensitivity and the ability to train dogs, has resulted in using them to detect
various odors that we as humans cannot perceive. Dogs are now used to detect landmines
in war zones, truffles, track game and criminals. They are also able to find humans
trapped under snow/landslides and cadavers buried far below the surface [Amato, 2009].
Recently dogs have also been shown to detect early onset of different cancers [Hovarth et
In this work, we will contrast the perception of objects by us with the perception of a
dog. The audience will be asked to interact with objects, sniff at them and narrate their
olfactory experiences with the object. They are then offered the myriad of possibilities
that they could detect if they had a canine sense of smell. We then visualize the object as
a piece of both the human and canine umwelts.
As an interface, we will use cards/imprints that have olfactory representations of objects
that people encounter in everyday life, such as – a cup of coffee; a couch, coat etc. By
making it an interactive game, we engage the audience and evoke curiosity, and begin
a dialog about the human sensory world in comparison to that of the dog. We hope this
simple interface will allow access to a larger audience, spanning varied ages, and fosters
thought and conversation.
Made in NYC | © MFA D+T 2011