Sissel Tolaas is a Norwegian artist who collects scents. She travels the world collecting odors, and accumulates more than 7 thousand samples, including the smell of his ex-boyfriends.
Sissel has already made a cheese with bacteria from ex-player David Beckham’s boot. And it made many people feel sick recreating the scent of the First World War.
The artist, who maintains the Re_Search Lab, a research laboratory in Berlin, Germany, has training in chemistry, linguistics and visual arts.
She develops both artistic, scientific and commercial projects, whether in partnership with museums, academic institutions or large companies. All involving olfactory communication.
“I grew up in the northern hemisphere, in Norway, where the smells are quite neutral. And I missed something. So I decided to rediscover the world by trying to use my nose for this purpose. Since I couldn’t go to the moon, I decided I would go by least for Eastern Europe, “said Sissel in an interview with the BBC radio program Outlook.
Em plena Cold War, she embarked by train to Warsaw, capital of Poland. And when he jumped at the station, his nose immediately caught the smell of lignite (a variety of charcoal), boiled cabbage and a very specific type of cleaning material..
“I think that some company had a monopoly. Wherever you went, any public space, this cleaning material was used, you could smell it all over Eastern Europe,” he recalls.
She then collected samples of lignite, cabbage and detergent to take home.
“I collect real things. I always travel with gloves, plastic bags and all kinds of analog devices. I made a kind of can that allows me to preserve these sources of odors, without allowing oxygen to enter the container, so that I can preserve them over time, “he explains.
That was how Tolaas began to travel across Eastern Europe and cross the border with luggage full of unusual items, such as garbage and dust. Smells are not always pleasant, it is true.
“If the reality is horrible, then (the smell) is horrible. What I do is literally smell the reality,” she says.
But the artist also collects body odors. “Since 2004, I have access to devices that allow me to collect small molecules that are emitted by sources of smell. You have a smartphone that takes pictures. I have a similar device and I take pictures of invisible reality”, he compares.
“In this type of analysis, I collect the molecules and I’m interested in breaking them down and replicating them in chemical compounds”, he explains.
What I do is literally smell like reality ‘, says Tolaas – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
It further reveals that keeps samples of the smells of all ex-boyfriends. “I even made soap with some of them,” he says.
It is a very vivid way to remember someone. “If this is a way of not being alone, then why not?”
In one of his most remarkable works, artist recreated the scent of World War I for an exhibition in Dresden, Germany. According to her, it was the most disgusting odor she has ever created in her entire life.
“I had no references in terms of sources (of smells), there was no one I could talk to who had survived the war. So I literally had to rely on history books and reports from military men who had some experience in war. “
“Literally, I created the most disgusting smell I could imagine to represent the battlefield,” he adds.
THE smell was a way to make people understand the true horror of war. And it seems to have had an effect. “The odor was so disgusting that some people even vomited before they even opened the door,” says Tolaas.
Among its creations, the cheese made from bacteria collected from the football boot of former soccer player David Beckham also stands out.
The initiative was part of a project carried out in partnership with the Harvard University School of Medicine, in the United States, to emphasize the importance of bacteria present in our flora.
The idea, according to Tolaas, was to illustrate that bacteria is not only something harmful, and cheese, in this case, was an analogy to the human body. “We had access to these bacteria, we grew them and used them to ferment milk and make cheese”, he explains.
Would you eat a cheese made with the bacteria in David Beckham’s boot? – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
THE cheese made from the odor of Beckham’s boots was served to guests at an event at the London 2012 Olympic Games. According to her, some guests proved, others preferred not to take any chances.
“I think that again it is about the power of language. If you didn’t know where this bacterium came from, you would say that this is a cheese like any other,” he analyzes.
And does it have a favorite smell?
“I find molecules that do things to me that I never thought they could do. They put me on alert, make me fall asleep. When I travel and I have jet lag, I put one of these molecules on my head and I perform amazingly. “
Tolaas says he also uses smells as self defense tactic when you are going to do, for example, fieldwork in an area considered dangerous.
“I put on a stinking garbage smell and emit an odor so repulsive that no one would dare approach,” he reveals.
“We use perfume to attract attention, why can’t we use a scent that says, ‘Look, leave me alone’?”
She cites the example of skunks. “What they do is very efficient. I learned a lot from them.”
Tollas puts the strategy into practice, including, to escape some wheels at social events.
“When I go to a party, all dressed up, and I don’t want to talk about the weather again, I put on a smell that allows it to happen. People keep looking for the source of the smell, and they have no idea it’s me. It’s just incredible “, have fun.