Sissel Tolaas is a Berlin-based artist and researcher who works with smell and its potential to communicate. Tolaas uses Headspace Technology —used by perfume makers to analyse and reproduce smells—to create scents that are deployed in a variety of projects.

Fear (2014), her installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, is an extension of a 2005 project titled Sweat Fear/Fear Sweat for which Tolaas created a database of sweat smells produced by 20 men around the world who suffer from a phobia of bodies. The sweat was collected using devices which absorbed the perspiration produced by the participants as they experienced fear attacks. The smell profile of the sweat molecules thus collected were then analysed and chemically recreated by Tolaas in her Berlin laboratory. Micro-encapsulated combinations of these smells are part of Tolaas’s installation at the Biennale for which she painted them onto the surfaces of stones collected from Kochi, many of them ballast stones that are relics of Kochi’s maritime past.

Ballast stones are used as weight to balance cargo vessels and are discarded once a ship is filled with cargo at a port. Stones thus discarded by vessels that docked in Kochi centuries ago can still be found scattered around its waters.

Tolaas’s installation functions as a distilled smellscape. The stones, when touched by visitors, release the microencapsulated scents they contain, evoking undercurrents of fear and violence and the tales of many labouring bodies that have left their imprints on this coast.


  • Title: Fear
  • Creator: Sissel Tolaas
  • Physical Dimensions: Dimensions variable
  • Type: Installation
  • Medium: Stones, replicated body smell
  • Gallery: Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi
  • First Creator: 1961
  • Date of artwork's creation: 2014
  • Creator's practice: Berlin, Germany.
  • Creator's date of birth: Stavanger, Norway.

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