sissel tolaas

Smellscape kck/kcmo: 2007-2012


Sissel Tolaas's SmellScape KCK/KCMO (2007-2012) took place from Sept. 7 to Oct. 31, 2012, at locations throughout downtown Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

areas of research

smell / exposure / perception / tolerance / geography / history / urban development / state lines / downtown / rivers / rules / game play


From 2007 to 2012, Sissel Tolaas collected and reproduced the smells of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. — a smell-mapping project similar to ones the artist had previously undertaken in Berlin, Mexico City, Cape Town and elsewhere. At Grand Arts, though, the installation took ultimate form as a game: a smell-based urban treasure hunt. 

Participants were challenged to explore downtown neighborhoods on foot and nose-first, alert to the power of smell, in a quest to locate, collect and describe scratch-and-sniff postcards infused with location-specific scents.


Screen grabs from the custom  SmellScape  app, 2012. (design © Novamondo)

Screen grabs from the custom SmellScape app, 2012. (design © Novamondo)

SmellScape players began at Grand Arts or one of six "Main Posts" (Kansas City Municipal Court, City Market, Kaw Point Park, Bethany Park, KCKPL’s Main Library, and the Kansas City Museum), where a neighborhood map installation highlighted one to five "Outposts" nearby. Each Main Post and Outpost housed one of twenty individual smell cards; each card was unique to its location.

On the custom SmellScape app, smartphone users could automatically check in, update scores, access leader boards, upload photos, and tag discoveries. At Grand Arts, analog players could tally scores by bringing their cards, notes and photos directly to the game's hub and home base. The gallery also featured a smell-mixing micro-laboratory and a live map projection tracking game players’ progress. 

All players who collected at least two smell cards were invited to pick up a complete, limited-edition box set of SmellScape smell cards at the conclusion of the game. Dedicated players who collected more than ten cards entered the Silver Sniffer Circle for the chance to win a real Golden Nose. 


SmellScape KCK/KCMO (2007-2012), Grand Arts, Sept. 7 to Oct. 31, 2012


Limited-edition box sets of 20 unique SmellScape KCK/KCMO smell cards

Exhibition catalog (Grand Arts, 2012)

Problems and Provocations: Grand Arts 1995-2015 (Grand Arts, 2016), featuring a 16-page project dossier 

Sissel Tolaas, collectible "Smell Cards," SmellScape KCK/KCMO, Grand Arts, 2012. (design © Novamondo)

Sissel Tolaas, collectible "Smell Cards," SmellScape KCK/KCMO, Grand Arts, 2012. (design © Novamondo)

Takeaway map, SmellScape KCK/KCMO, Grand Arts, 2012. (design © Novamondo)

Takeaway map, SmellScape KCK/KCMO, Grand Arts, 2012. (design © Novamondo)


Collaborators on SmellScape KCK/KCMO included Kansas City Municipal Court, City Market, Kansas City Museum, Kansas City Kansas Public Library Main Branch, The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City Kansas Parks and Recreation, Friends of Kaw Point, Los Tules Food Truck, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Steamboat Arabia Museum, Chinatown Food Market, Al Habashi Mart, Lou Lou's, Rich's Wash and Dry, Epic Arts Clay Studio, Dalia's Belleza Estetica Familiar, Supermart El Torito II, La Michoacana, Hammerpress, Jewelry by Design, and Ed's Trophies and Awards.

artist bio

Berlin-based “professional in-betweener” Sissel Tolaas was born in Norway and studied mathematics, chemical science, languages and visual art at universities in Oslo, Warsaw, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Oxford. Since 1990 she has focused her work on smell and communication, moving within disciplines of science, art, academia and industry. In 2004, Tolaas established the Smell RE_searchLab in Berlin with funding from International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF). She has performed smell studies for companies and institutions including BBC London; Sony Computer Science Laboratory, in Paris; Max Planck Institute; Deutsche Bank; Louis Vuitton; Estee Lauder; KPMG; Sony BMG; SHOWstudio; Mercedes Benz; Adidas; the Rockefeller Foundation; Johnson & Johnson; 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing; Liverpool University; Parsons The New School For Design; Harvard University; Stanford University; University of Michigan; Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena; NASA; IEEE; and MIT. Tolaas often participates in international colloquiums and conferences; recently she became a founding member of the International Sleep Science and Technology Association. Her work has won international recognition and prizes, including a 2009 Rouse Visiting Artist appointment at Harvard GSD; a 2010 Honorable Mention in the category of Hybrid Art at Prix Ars Electronica, in Linz, Austria; and a 2010 collaborative residency at Harvard Medical School awarded by Synthetic Aesthetics, a research project jointly run by the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University. Her projects have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Fondation Cartier, in Paris; Hamburger Bahnhof, in Berlin; Tate Gallery, in Liverpool; the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing; the Venice Biennale; and documenta 13. 

in the field

public programs

Sept. 8
Smell Walk-and-Talk with Sissel Tolaas and Jose Faus
Meet us at Kansas City Museum in the Northeast — an area with a surprising history and where smell secrets abound.

Oct. 4
Smell-and-Tell Roundtable 1: Amore-Tentia
Participants tell tales of transformative smell experiences in this round table discussion, which takes its name from the famous Harry Potter potion Amortentia — the most powerful love potion in the world.

Oct. 5
Shrubs, Pour-Overs and Beverages from the Corcoran Lab
Competitive barista Caitlin Corcoran, mix-master of unconventional combinations with farm-to-cup ingredients, will entice olfactories and taste buds with coffee pour-overs, homemade shrubs, syrups and brews. 

Oct. 6
Todd Shalom presents: Smelling Poetry
In two workshops, participants will sniff their way around the City Market neighborhood, sharpening their noses and writing poetry through the elusive sense of smell. 

Oct. 11
Smell-and-Tell Roundtable 2: Personalizing Smell
Local scent-makers Jen Denslow (Blooming Lotus, Yoga Teacher and Aromatherapist at Sage Center for Yoga and Healing Arts), Maria Calderon (drawing instructor at UMKC, artist, yoga instructor), Abbi Miller (personal-perfumer, dancer, performer, yoga instructor) and Jill McKeever (For Strange Women, artisanal perfumer, artist) weigh in on what they look for when creating an olfactory sensation. 

Oct. 12
Concocting Olfactions
Artisanal bartender and mixologist Arturo A. Vera Selicie explains how he uses his nose to gain a professional edge — and brings along his latest shrubs, tonics and drinking vinegars for us to sniff and taste. 

Oct. 13
Pheromones, Bees and Urban Farms: Smell Walk-and-Talk
Local artist/beekeepers Kathy Marchant and Jarrett Mellenbruch lead participants on a walk-and-talk tour of homesteading, gardening, swarm-chasing and honey-collecting on the Westside, discussing how the various smells of hives, bees’ use of pheromone signals to communicate within the hive and how we might train our noses to be sensitive and responsive to these signals as they make up part of our local smellscape.

Thursday, Oct. 25
Smell-and-Tell Roundtable 3: What's that Smell?
What IS that strange odor that exudes from the West Bottoms, evokes dog food as it straddles State Line, wafts downtown and midtown and eventually morphs into the sickeningly sweet smell of cinnamon doughnuts? We sift through the city’s oral histories and get to the bottom of it.   

Friday, Oct. 26
Pheromone Friends: Sniffing Out a Match
Don’t worry, this is not speed-dating! For educational purposes only, we will confront how we make interpersonal olfactory impressions. Come prepared with a well-worn, not-so-freshly-washed article of clothing (a t-shirt or blouse worn for 3 or more days in a row) in a sealed plastic bag. 

Saturday, Oct. 27
Smell Walk-and-Talk with Timothy “Speed” Levitch
Iconoclastic philospher, tour guide and writer Speed Levitch leads us on a sensory tour of the City Market, where we may encounter — among other things — idiosyncratic notions of place, the connectedness of our KC-based psycho/geo/emo maps, and the heartbeat of spontaneous culture within city limits.

Nov 2
Golden Nose Awards Ceremony
Please join us for a SmellScape KCK/KCMO closing reception at Grand Arts, where we present the ultimate SmellScape winner with the ultimate SmellScape prize: a real golden nose! It’s your last chance to mix your very own vial of custom Kansas City scent, and to collect your complete boxed set of scratch-and-sniff smell cards. Only at Grand Arts, only though Friday!