Luc Steels & Sissel Tolaas 

“The Utopia of Communication” 
January 28th 2010 – Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin

Abstract

Luc Steels and Sissel Tolaas represent different ways of approaching the interaction between science and art; one comes from the science world and the other from the art world. They try to understand each other’s methods of working more than actually striving towards making works of art together. Steels and Tolaas both stress the importance of processes in their work and want to give others access to these processes. They both investigate communication. Steels studies the origins of communication, and particularly how sensory experiences, such as colour or spatial and bodily perception can become categorised and verbalised. Tolaas studies the most unique non-verbal communication form that we humans have, namely smells.

–Luc Steels is professor of Artificial Intelligence at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and director of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris. He is known for his experiments investigating the origins and evolution of symbolic communication. These experiments attempt to find out what kind of mechanisms are needed so that humanoid robots can autonomously self-organize language-like communication systems. In addition to his scientific work, he has been involved with various art/science projects with artists Sissel Tolaas, Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, and others. He collaborated with theatre maker Jean-François Peyret for a piece at the Avignon theatre festival. Last year he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.

–Sissel Tolaas runs the ResearchLab Berlin for SMELL & COMMUNICATION. She studied mathematics, chemistry, languages and visual arts in six different countries. She has been working with smells for twenty years, continuously expanding the contexts where they are considered. She has developed projects in order to use chemistry, neuroscience and modern technology to present smells and nonverbal communication on different scales. Smells at a personal level, including sweat from men with fear attacks, were exhibited at i.e. MIT, Beijing Summer Olympics and Louisiana Museum – the projects is also the starting point of serious research in Stanford University and San Francisco Neurosciences Institute.  In addition to her artistic activities, Sissel Tolaas works actively with business and academia. She also has an appointment for research and teaching at Harvard University. This year she was awarded the Rouse Visiting Artist-in-Residence at the Harvard GSD, for a research project done in Mexico City about pollution, perception and communication – developing new tools and new methodologies/methods to confront disastrous realities. Her work is generously supported by IFF (International Flavors &  Fragrances Inc.). 

Curated by Alexander Abbushi