Sissel Tolaas RE________08. Oct. 2021 – 30. Dec. 2021
In the course of a single day, each of us breathes in and out around 24,000 times. These breaths carry crucial information we don’t consciously notice – invisible messages to the brain that immediately trigger emotions and memories. For Sissel Tolaas, smell is therefore an important and often overseen tool of communication.
Over several decades, Tolaas has developed a unique artistic practice that challenges the idea of the artwork as a physical object. Ever since the late 80s and early 90s, she has been deeply interested in observing chemical processes and the topic of change. Her works and projects do neither have a beginning nor an end, but are always in flux. Early in her career, these processes were generally formal, experiments and mathematical calculations that explored how different materials affect and are dependent of each other.
Over the years, she has moved away from the realm of the physical and the visual towards that of the senses as tools and the immaterial as information. As early as the 1990s, she was creating works that focused on olfactory phenomena and reactions by exposing audiences to air currents and smells from various sources. At her studio and chemistry lab in Berlin, she is researching the complex topics of smell while exploring smell as a medium of artistic expression. Her investigations range from in-depth research and analysis, to the archiving and synthetic (re)production of smell molecules and structures. Tolaas has built up various archives of smellrecordings, an archive of 10,000 smell molecules, and Nasalo, a unique smell lexicon, so far containing 4,200 terms and expressions. In 2004, she founded the SMELL RE_searchLab (supported by IFF Inc. ), a laboratory that has collaborated with a number of scientific institutions around the world.
The exhibition RE________ exemplifies the breadth of Tolaas’ complex yet highly direct and intuitive artistic practice. All of the works on display are site-specific, developed or reworked especially for this exhibition. The museum’s architecture, its physical setting, and geographical context are all closely scrutinised, raising questions large and small in the process: What is change? What is hidden beneath the museum’s surface? How do scared people smell? How do we capture a single breath? What smells characterize a nation?
The “situations”, or rooms in the exhibition, are described not through conventional gallery texts, but through a series of special codes. All of the codes are brought together in the final room, where titles and further information about the installations are also provided. Visitors can choose to build up their own impressions as they peruse the artworks, or to delve into the meanings behind the codes in this final room. Tolaas has also worked closely with the museum’s guides, who are on hand in the exhibition to discuss the works with visitors. As in many of Tolaas’ projects, this exhibition does not have a beginning or an end but can be explored organically and circuitously.
Sissel Tolaas lives and works in Berlin. Her projects have been presented internationally at biennials, such as the Venice Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale, and museums, including MoMA in New York, the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, Dia Art Foundation in New York, and Tate Modern in London.
The exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley Museet is the largest presentation of Sissel Tolaas’ art to date. In 2022 it will move on to the United States, where it will be on view at ICA Philadelphia from August 19.
Entrance ticket (Liquid_Money_1): Instead of an ordinary ticket, each visitor will receive an ampoule containing a chemical simulation of the smell of money. With this, guests can return to the exhibition as often as they like.
Sauna (Liquid_Money_2): Liquid Money_2 can be experienced in the floating sauna moored to the quayside just outside the museum. The ampoule gives free access to the sauna Tuesday to Sunday 13:00 – 16:00. Here visitors can steam in the smell of money before jumping into the sea to wash off the smell.
Exhibition design: Formafantasma
Graphic design: Studio Joost Grootens