I just received the most recent issue of the German interview magazine mono.kultur. Issue #23 contains an interview with odor artist Sissel Tolaas, along with twelve scented pages! I’ve been looking for this copy of the magazine in New York City, but I’m not sure it’s hit the stands yet (Spoonbill & Sugartown and Printed Matter carry it). Luckily I was contacted by one of the editors, Anna Saulwick, and a copy was sent to me from Berlin, arriving in my mailbox today.
I didn’t know what kinds of scents to expect, but the pages are laced with ‘The Smell of Fear,’ a project Tolaas has been working on where she collects sweat from men at the onslaught of anxiety. The pages smell strong. They smell like sweat and men’s cologne and it’s hard for me to decipher a difference between them. They all smell the same, but perhaps my receptors aren’t trained well enough to sense the subtleties. On page six of the magazine Tolaas remarks, “We can render up to 10,000 different smells but we use only fifteen to twenty percent of this information. we have only two words to describe them – good or bad – and there must be something done about it. I see smell as information, or a tool of navigation and communication.” The interview is fascinating and sheds light on our most forgotten, and perhaps most important sense.
I am really excited about this magazine for a couple reasons. First, I think it’s really interesting to compare the scents in this magazine with perfume ad scents in men’s and women’s fashion magazines. Instead of giving us a fragrance meant to cover up body odor, we are given the fragrance of body odor. I have also been personally interested in exploring scent and its ties to memory. I began an art project earlier this year where I have been smelling all of the books in the library I work at. I will be placing images of my scent diary along with an essay I am writing up on my website soon. Lastly, I’ve been involved in organizing a class at The Public School called ‘The Space Life of Smell.’ We’re hoping the class will take place sometime this June.