The Nose Knows
By Irma Kiss Barath for 34th Street
October 6, 2022
Sissel Tolaas wants you to smell fear. Her exhibition RE__________, newly opened at the ICA, offers a sprawling tour of our shared smellscape; from sandy beaches to dollar bills, the Norwegian chemist–turned–artist has set out to capture the smells—both foul and fragrant—of daily life.
Viewers new to Tolaas’ work shouldn’t expect any help navigating the exhibition. RE__________ sees the artist eschew conventional museum labels in favor of a choose–your–own adventure turn through the gallery. One can never be sure what to expect—a pleasant, fruity smell might give way to the stench of a locker room.
ICA Curator Zoë Ryan describes the exhibition as one of the ICA’s “most experimental” to date—a word that’s overused in conversations about contemporary artists, but wonderfully apt here. The experiment, to borrow from Claude Bernard, consists of forced observation. Nothing could be more fitting to RE__________, which invites us to sit courtside to Tolaas’ many, thrilling transgressions—utterly transfixed.
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