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    Understanding Sissel Tolaas’ unusual medium and unique installation at the Biennale

    The smell of sweat is one that most of us hate. But for Berlin-based artist, Sissel Tolaas, it inspired her art installation, Fear. On display at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the exhibit, which combines art and chemical research, comprises ballast stones imbued with the smell of sweat. “Fear is a continuation of my 2005 project, Sweat Fear, commissioned by MIT (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US) to predict paranoia from smell,” explains Tolaas.
    Follow the nose
    The artist used headspace technology (used by perfumers to analyse and reproduce smells) to create the molecular profile of sweat. She chose 20 men from around the world, all of whom suffered from Anthrophobia (a deep fear of people’s bodies) and gave them an electronic device to place in their armpits at the onset of a fear attack—to collect sweat and register its molecules. The smell profile of the molecules were later analysed and chemically reproduced by Tolaas in her Berlin laboratory. For the Biennale, she created a combination, which she then painted on to ballast stones—relics from Kochi’s maritime past. “I believe these stones carry the sweat of male workers from Kochi’s colonial era, who worked in the seaborne trade,” says Tolaas.
    Describing his take on Tolaas’ work, Jitish Kallat, the curator of the Biennale, says, “I asked Tolaas if her portfolio of smells could animate the ballast stones, which balanced spice carrying ships from distant places. Now these six stones (on display) are like masonry, reciting a deep history of the workers who worked in the seaborne trade.”

    At the Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi. Till March 29. From 10 am to 6 pm. Details: 0484 2215297

    Nimmy Merlien Philip

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