Sep 16–Dec 30, 2022

Sissel Tolaas: RE________

Image courtesy of Astrup Fearnley Museet.

In the course of a single day, each of us breathes in and out around 24,000 times. These breaths carry crucial information we don’t consciously notice – invisible messages to the brain that immediately trigger emotions and memories. For artist and smell researcher Sissel Tolaas (born 1963 Stavanger, Norway; lives Berlin), smell is therefore an important and underappreciated tool of communication.

Over several decades, Tolaas has developed a unique artistic practice that challenges the idea of the artwork as a physical object. Ever since the late 80s and early 90s, she has been deeply interested in observing chemical processes and the topic of change. Early in her career, these processes were generally formal, experiments and mathematical calculations that explored how different materials affect and are dependent of each other. Over the years, she has moved away from the realm of the physical and the visual towards that of the senses as tools and the immaterial as information.

As early as the 1990s, she was creating works that focused on olfactory phenomena and reactions by exposing audiences to air currents and smells from various sources. At her studio and chemistry lab in Berlin, she is researching the complex topics of smell while exploring smell as a medium of artistic expression. Her investigations range from in-depth research and analysis, to the archiving and synthetic (re)production of smell molecules and structures. Tolaas has built up various archives of smell recordings, an archive of 10,000 smell molecules, and Nasalo, a unique smell lexicon, so far containing 4,200 terms and expressions. In 2004, she founded the SMELL RE_search Lab Berlin (supported by IFF Inc.), a laboratory that has collaborated with a number of scientific institutions around the world.

With an artistic and scientific practice that addresses the sense of smell rather than sight and hearing, Tolaas activates a different type of engagement and perception in her audiences. The exhibition explores the full breadth of a complex yet direct and intuitive researched based artistic practice, through which the concepts of process, time and change run like a unifying thread.

This exhibition is organized by Astrup Fearnley Museet and is curated by Solveig Øvstebø, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Astrup Fearnley Museet, with Zoë Ryan, Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director, ICA.