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Fragrancing FEAR

Posted: May 16, 2007

Artist Sissel Tolaas’ latest project pushes the boundaries of the art of fragrance and its ability to communicate

The first logical question you want to ask multi-media artist and scent communication specialist Sissel Tolaas is: “Do you wear perfume?”

“No,” she says, “I stopped a long time ago.”

Raised in Iceland and Norway and now based in Berlin, Tolaas is interested in fragrance less as a decorative element than as a tool for communication. Since 1990, her wide-ranging projects have involved Comme des Garcons, Volvo, IKEA, H&M, IFF (for whom she consults via a smell communication laboratory installed by the company), Sony Computer Science Laboratories (with whom she’s developing a scent dictionary of sorts) and MIT. Her many projects have included “smell maps” of several cities, including Paris and Berlin—daily scents of various urban locales recreated/synthesized by perfumers under Tolaas’ direction. Here, as in all of the artist’s work, notions of good or bad olfactive descriptors are irrelevant, even bothersome.

“We are able to smell and memorize up to 10,000 smells—and we have two words to communicate them,” says Tolaas. “There must be something wrong.”