Tor Seidel is a German artist who pursued an MA in Art, Philosophy and Archeology at the Frei Universität Berlin. He has formerly worked as commercial photographer for clients ranging from Zaha Hadid to Vogue, and as art director for European art, architecture, fashion and archeology magazines. Currently, Tor is lecturer in the Fine Arts program at the University of Sharjah, and is represented by The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai. He has published two books on the Emirate, "The Dubai", (Hatje-Cantz 2014), and "Mannequins", (Kerber 2018), and has exhibited in London, Miami, Berlin, and Venice. In 2016, Tor received the Syngenta Photo Award.
Tell us about your current practice.
My latest work is about my interest in soap as an object of information
and particularly looks at is as a data set for considering the populations
of the UAE. In Spectrum 1, I gathered 156 kinds of soap that are
available in the country and transformed them, changing the shape,
color, and smell of the different varieties through a process of
shredding, melting, and casting them into identical molds. I designed a
questionnaire and tracked people’s responses to the varieties, creating
a qualitative data set to coincide with the quantitative characteristics
such as chemical-olfactory composition, origin, and distribution. The
commercial identifiers have been lost and each soap-ingot is
transformed into a kind of blueprint full of data to be read collectively
across the full spectrum of soaps through their own imperfections and
surface texture that developed through the identical molding process.
They read as a type of visual archive of the memory and personal ritual
through an everyday medium that is tied to the personal experience of
In Scent Fields, 10 casted soap bars are stored in a cabinet in
compartments. The visitor opens the cabinet door and experiences its
scent and the memories it triggers of rooms, experiences, people,
stories, or feelings. The absence becomes the presence, the intangible
experience, bridging time and distance. These have been particularly
crafted blending the scents of separate experiences documented in the
questionnaire. They become complex scent compositions that are
collective memories rather than those tied to a specific individual.
Why do you use soaps as your material?
Soap is the perfect medium to work with smell, scent and their direct link to
memory/association. In another consideration I found that the colors in soaps, based
on natural ingredients or chemicals, arranged in a certain order/composition can
display a specific color space. In another new work where I’am working with soap
both, smell and color are combined to trigger the our associations. In my research I
found that many synaestehtic sensations revolve around smells, colors and sounds.
How does your work fit in the contemporary art world?
I guess the “art-world” is big so that I cannot answer that. I think, as I am
originally coming from 2d orientated art practice with photography, the viewers always passive. Does he understands the subtext, he has just to follow my
path. But here, I can be sure that the work with smell related to memory is
involving the viewer much more in an active manner. At the moment I’am not
so interested in images to overwhelm or to impress the viewer. Smell is not
visible, but the moment where I can talk to the viewer is much more satisfying,
II guess for both, the viewer and me.
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