Visiting Sissel Tolaas' spacious Berlin-Wilmersdorf apartment, one immediately finds oneself engulfed in an intense, yet hard-to-define odour: the smell of more than 7,000 samples archived by the Icelandic/Norwegian artist and scent researcher over a period of twenty years. Discerning noses might detect the smell of cold sweat, chewing tobacco, leather and ancient launderettes, to name but a few of the samples on hand for experimentation by the trained linguist, mathematician, chemist and artist. Notwithstanding, there is nothing unsettling about the resulting blend – on the contrary, the mix strikes us as strangely pleasant.
Generally speaking, Tolaas sets out to counter the world's pervasive olfactory illiteracy by spreading the word as a visiting professor for, among others, Invisible Communications and Rhetoric at Harvard and Stanford, via art installations or through her pedagogic work with children: "Every smell contains information on situations and people. So, if we routinely cover anything – including ourselves – in fragrances, how are we supposed to know who we are? How can others figure out who we are? We have a smell identity as unique as our finger print."