(HOW TO) Follow your nose
“We live in a world that is dominated by how things look; he, she, it—me, myself and iPhone. The other senses are separated tremendously. ”
Perfume-making seems scientific, from the outside looking in. But Ernest Beau, the French perfumer behind Chanel No.5, chalked it up to an art form: “It is like writing music. Each component has a definite tonal value ... I can compose a waltz or a funeral march.’”
Sissel Tolaas understands this. A self-dubbed ‘professional in-betweener’, she yokes the realms of design, science, art, and marketing together, all using a superior sense of smell. Procuring her business card from a zip-locked pouch, she’s instilled it with a few special molecules, leaving traces of Sissel everywhere she goes: “Sometimes if I want to be remembered I leave traces all over.”
Tate’s ‘crying room’ leaving unsuspecting tourists in uncontrollable sobs; a unique cheese for Adidas (fermented with David Beckham’s sweat), or Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2020 show, where the smells of antiseptic, blood, money and petrol eked from the ceiling. Sissel’s environments of smell are her riposte to what she views as “the biggest illness of our time: disembodiment”.
Born in “pretty sour, pretty clean” Scandinavia, a wanderlust irritated Sissel from a young age—”if you live on an island all your life, you’re always wondering–what’s up that next mountain? What’s on the next island?” To distil her different commissions, the first step is showing up; which Sissel describes as “half the job; because you need to smell it, you cannot send someone else to come back and report.”
Nowadays, though, Sissel’s commissions take her to places even she can’t go; a recent commission exploring the scents of extinct flora, required her to distil something that no longer even exists. How might our brains react to a smell completely out of context, when, as Sissel says, “you remove all indications of what the smell is, your brain operates completely differently...it’s pure information.”
Follow Tom Dixon's Nose