Sissel Tolaas
Ocean SmellScapes, 2017
03.2017 : 10.5438700 / 84.4537700 / 10.5 / 84.5

Photo: Courtesy the artist, 2017

Smells, distributed by smell dispensers
Dimensions variable
Commissioned by TBA21–Academy, London
Supported by International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF)

Ecological change is the pivot of Sissel Tolaas’ project. For Tidalectics, Tolaas collected oceanic smells from the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts in Costa Rica, which, accounting for 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity despite its small surface area, is one of the most speciose places on the planet. While the land has seen decent environmental protection measures, the surrounding oceans have largely been neglected. Costa Rica is subject to complex oceanic currents, and affected by overfishing, unplanned coastal development, population increase, coastal and marine pollution as well as the El Niño, which most likely intensify with climate change. Tolaas’ assembled smell data aim to preserve and convey olfactory information about the different invisible levels of the oceans—cultural, historical, geographical, social and linguistic–with the aim to preserve them for when they may disappear from their site of origin. Our olfactory sense is largely unexplored, and we mostly focus on visual stimuli to make sense of the world. Olfaction, however, is the most primary sense that immediately informs us of our surrounding reality, evoking specific emotions and causing substantial reactions in the perceiver. The oceanic smell inventories allow accurate interpretation of the biogeography of the country’s two coasts and latitudinal trends, and also provide relevant information for science-based policies. In the exhibition, the smells create a perceptive layer with immediacy beyond the cerebral. From the breeze of the waves to pollution, the smells activate the visitors’ sensorium, evoke familiar and new motifs, and sceneries that may soon disappear and fade from memory but can be tracked back with the help of the collected data.
Sissel Tolaas is born Norway, based in Berlin. Tolaas has background in chemistry, mathematics, linguistics, languages and art, from the universities of Oslo, Warsaw, Moscow, St Petersburg and Oxford.

Tolaas is working actively and concentrated on the topic of SMELL since 1990. Tolaas established the SMELL RE_searchLab Berlin, on smell & communication / language, in Berlin in January 2004, supported by IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.)
Her research has won recognition through numerous national and international scholarships, honours, and prizes including the 2014 CEW, New York award for chemistry & innovation; 2009 Rouse Foundation Award from Harvard University GSD and the 2010 ArsElectronica Award in Linz, Austria and the 2010-2011-2012-2014 Synthetic Biology / Synthetic Aesthetics Award from Stanford and Edinburgh Universities including a residency at Harvard Medical School. Tolaas founded the Institute of Functional Smells in 2010 (i.e. health, education, wellbeing) Tolaas is recently a founding member of FUTURE OF EDUCATION, a collaboration with the Nanyang Technical University Singapore and The Future Education Platform, Berlin.
She has worked and is working with numerous companies and institutions, including Ted Global, US; Design Indaba, South Africa; What Design Can Do, Holland and Brazil; World Science Festival, New York; World Congress of Synthetic Biology, Stanford University; Documenta13, Kassel Germany; MOMA New York; MOMA San Francisco; Fondation Cartier, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Tate Gallery, Liverpool; Venice Biennale; Kochi Biennale; Liverpool Biennale; Sao Paulo Biennale;  National Art Museum of China Beijing; Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai; Art Institute Chicago; Architecture Biennale 2015, Shanghai; Time Museum Guangzhou.

Tolaas has done 52 City SmellScape research projects since 1998 all over the world. She has built up several smell archives, including an archive of 7000 real smells from all over the world. Currently, she is working on an archive of The World’s Oceans and on the morbidity and decay of Detroit. Tolaas just launched the world’s first Smell Memory Kit and has several other devices and sense tools in the pipeline.