The Scent of History – Inside the Library of Smells

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Sissel Tolaas is many things: an artist, a scientist and—perhaps most importantly—a smell expert. She has dedicated much of her life to capturing and recreating smells from objects, places, events, and even broad historical periods.

Using hundreds of chemical compounds to bring smells back to life, Tolaas has amassed a library of thousands of smells over her lifetime to both educate and challenge how we perceive the documentation of our experiences on this planet.

In the modern West, we tend to think of smell in purely aesthetic terms, pleasant or unpleasant. In many other cultures however, smells have provided and still provide a basic means of defining the and interacting with the world.

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The 56-year-old Norwegian is based in Berlin, where she’s employed in projects that range from the scientific, to the commercial, to the artistic, to the historical.

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