"As people return to analogue applications, there is an increased interest in smell. They’ve realized that their bodies are hard-working machines with their own software – the senses”
Sissel Tolaas is one of the world’s most prolific scent specialists. During an extensive education in Oslo, Moscow, Leningrad, Oxford and Princeton, Tolaas studied mathematics, chemistry, art and linguistics – she speaks nine languages. Further to her wide expertise, she has been exploring smells for the past 23 years. Ahead of her stay at the Lloyd Hotel and her presentation at Ninety Minutes of Frame (which takes place on the 13th February at Pakhuis de Zwijger) we spoke to her in Berlin about her unique vocation.
Seemingly unconfined by traditional disciplinary boundaries, Tolaas combines academic, creative and commercial worlds. “I’m a ‘professional inbetweener,’ I bring the commercial, science and art worlds together by balancing creativity, academia and industry. I share my knowledge and research. By replicating reality, I develop molecular compounds and multifaceted formulas – not fragrances.”
With an archive of her archive features over 7000 scents it’s hard to imagine there’s a favourite. Tolaas remarks, “Every smell has its purpose but I prefer complexity. A few years ago, Dresden’s Bundeswehr Military History Museum commissioned me to capture the one remaining smell of World War I. I had to code the unknown rather than reproduce reality – analyzing subjective narratives.”
True to the times, there’s a constant craving for the “new” alongside our obsession with digital. But developments in the scent world don’t seem to keep the same pace. “Recording scent results from a long process involving multiple components, not quick flirtations. As a creative chemist, my goal is to capture reality but also to inform people about how their noses work,” says Tolaas.
“As people return to analogue applications, there is an increased interest in smell. They’ve realized that their bodies are hard-working machines with their own software – the senses.”
Sissel Tolaas is the keynote speaker at Ninety Minutes of FRAME taking place at Pakhuis de Zwijger Amsterdam on 13th February.
Interview material courtesy of FRAME magazine and Adrian Madlener
Photos Trevor Morgan