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Overwhelming Inertia

Sometimes all it takes is a photograph…

I have recently felt an overwhelming sense of inertia. It’s been humming for months now — a growing gravity like an electromagnetic junk bond whose compound interest strengthens a surrounding force-field of cognitive debts.

This tab has now been running in step with the finessing stage of the Ambergris Project, which I have been hoping to dispense with Studio Series 13. All the economic issues affecting small businesses that I recently chronicled have also amplified this recent sense of helpless stasis.

Standing and waiting in place for something that the world seems reluctant to give us is a common human condition. Capitalism especially compels us to hunker down and expend time in trade for desired things. The pre-internet 1990s were an apogee for overnight waits in concert-ticket lines, later replaced by droll and depressing digital waiting rooms which lack the jovial fervor of passing around a bowl and trading stories of great festivals and tours past. Now we wait alone at home. Imagery of dense communist bread lines were once popular propaganda for scaring us to believe capitalism protected us from dearth and depression. Today the hysteria of flash-sale product drops and limited-edition FOMO instead reward collectors for persistent attention which stretches days and weeks longer than any concert ticket line ever did. Have you engaged today? Contemporary innovations of demand far outpace hidden inefficiencies of supply. Never mind those toilet paper lines we’ve faced during pandemic! In commerce we wait.

But what do I even want? Why do I feel so inert, especially as an artist with an active and interested audience? Why is it so hard to move?

Cognitive or emotional inertia often results from a hypermagnified view of our situations: Our beings are seeing and processing too much, so we just shut down entirely to avoid overheating, yet somehow overheat in the process.

History has taught me that changing course, doing anything different and with intention, is sometimes all it takes. Change it up!, one shouts. Something done non-reflexively even on a microlevel. On a moment level.

So when even breakfast seems too hard to ponder, as it did the morning I wrote this essay, the simple choice to exit the house and feed something else, as I also did this morning watering the plants, felt right. And so did looking at them up close. Staring. Taking a photograph of that moment: the sunlight, their color, decay.

Succulent plant, colorful closeup

For whatever reason — or, as these things often occur, without immediate reason — in the flash of taking that photograph I realized that ambergris is an element of inertia, and it suddenly made sense why I was feeling so much motionlessness working on a project around a precious object that otherwise aimlessly floats until found. Ambergris is often considered the ultimate fixative: Its properties in perfumery are exploited less for their odor and more for their function, as it tends to weight down lighter chemicals and make the entire perfume last longer.

Of course, there is a counterbalance, which is a dulling, namely one exchanges effervescence for duration. And in that regard, ambergris is also a photograph, which is to say it is a negative of a whale’s consumption over time, developed chemically via contact with ocean water and sunlight once it is discharged into the sea. A faded Polaroid, of sorts, a mammalian selfie superimposed by time and a variety of places, all at once.

When we take a picture, we only preserve a part of a moment's entirety; when we use ambergris in perfume, we frame an olfactive portrait in order to extend its durability.

While ambergris must first float, often for years, atop water before it becomes a fragrant tool, once placed into ethyl alcohol it almost entirely dissolves and otherwise sinks. And I guess, even as humans, we require a little sinking, or dulling too, during those times of life when all we wish to do is somehow float through it, but for whatever reason we don’t.

Sometimes writing-it-down is enough changing-it-up to stoke momentum. Do I feel better after writing about this for a few hours? I do.

Despite the weight of emotional inertia and cognitive clog, I have been at work with the essayist, artist, and press for Studio Series 13, and I’ll be announcing their participation very soon once we collectively tidy up the final details. Additionally, for this final edition, I’ll be including a vial of ambergris tincture so collectors can enjoy the experience of the material on its own, and to possess a reference point for the world of amber-odor fragrances strewn across the perfume landscape today.

Lastly, due to a variety of shortages, fewer sets than usual of the experimental samples will be produced for this final edition, and over half the run is already pre-ordered. Your purchase of Studio Series 13 supports all four artists who will come together to make this happen, so I hope you’ll consider reserving your set today.

Thank you!