‘Scent Stories’ by Franca Schneider – Kaja Solgaard Dahl


Kaja Solgaard Dahl

Scent Sculptor Kaja Solgaard Dahl develops sensory objects. Combining craftsmanship and scent, her work speaks to its observer on different levels of perception.

Looking at your work it becomes obvious that you have a strong passion for fragrance. Is it something you have always been interested in or did you come across it during your career?

I think my Scandinavian upbringing and my fascination for nature since I was a child plays a big role in this. I have always spent time in the woods and by the sea, collecting materials, building spaces in the forest and investigating nature with a micro view. Today I see fragrance as a sophisticated way to include nature into my work.
In the process of building and navigating my design direction, the role of fragrance as a main source of inspiration gradually gained importance. When I started designing I was mostly interested in the haptic spectrum of tactility. But during my master studies at ECAL (Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne) this developed into my creation of scent objects and fragrance rituals. Now fragrance is my main focus.
At the moment I’m working on different projects. I independently design scent sculptures like the new porcelain and stone piece I showed during Salone del Mobile Milano at Rossana Orlandi & Sé showroom in April. In addition to that I also do research and develop fragrance concepts for companies, which is very exciting.

What fascinates you about scent?

Fragrance is a beautiful way to send your mind on a journey as it is so connected to emotions and memory. Smelling a perfume or a type of food can instantly send you back to a specific place or situation. I also think that when it comes to fragrance there is a common understanding between people that is not tied to geographical boundaries, which is fantastic.
Interpreting fragrance into objects like I do touches a lot of subjects I’m very interested in, such as materials, shapes, history, nature, human behaviour and rituals. For me as a creative working with scent is also a way to capture layered stories, beautiful landscapes and spaces.
I work in a very intuitive way based on a process led by subjective and sometimes spontaneous research, so the end result is formed by all impressions and experiences that occur along the way. Working with scent gives me the freedom to be a bit intricate in both my concept and references. In the end the combination of fragrance and objects can sum all that up in a piece of work that can be experienced in a very intuitive way by the observer.

Your work combines different sensory experiences. For example, in your project »Tapputi and the sea» a coloured natural sea sponge holds a solid perfume that melts onto the warm skin when applied. How important is the aspect of addressing as many senses as possible to you?

In general, my goal is to create works that can be discovered. That’s also my vision of luxury. What also inspires me a lot are things that cannot really be possessed because they are temporary and will be wiped away by time. I think the immateriality of sensory experiences is a good example for this.
In «Tapputi and the sea» it was not a conscious decision from the beginning to include that many elements of sensory experience. But by applying my design process and also leaving no detail untouched, it developed into a piece where all elements became a very important part of the final experience. It is such a simple and low «tech» object but at the same time holds a lot of human references. I find that to be the strength of this project.

Your object Paper/Stone 3Notes – fragrance display consists of three Norwegian granite stones holding different paper sculptures whose shapes reflect the scents of the natural oils that are applied onto them. 

Do you believe there is a common perception among people when it comes to combining scent and visual language? How do you approach this highly intuitive field?

Especially colours can come with very strong expectation of what a fragrance smells like. Fortunately shape, material and structure are less connected to the actual ingredients. This is where I find it very interesting to develop my own design language as it gives a lot of room to interpret the fragrance itself and how to communicate its story.

In my first project with glass, wax and sponge, «Tapputi and the sea» I did not work with an actual perfume. It was merely a study of visual and tactile language. I wanted to communicate that the object holds an olfactory experience. You can maybe «smell» that from the photos, but in reality, the actual perfume was developed after that in a second version, «T&S, Cape Town edition» for Design Indaba.

Your work involves scents in different forms, related to the body as well as to the room. Is there a difference in developing objects for these two purposes?

I approach both subjects in very similar ways since I am mainly inspired by the materials I am working with and the rituals I can create by combining objects and scent. In the process of creating, developing a design principle comes before the actual shape. That is connected to my approach of working both research and sculptural minded.
But of course the two functions call for different types of fragrances and materials. For example, the wax from «Tapputi and the sea» which holds the scent needs to be activated by body heat to melt on the skin, whereas my recent porcelain pieces for the room first absorb the scent and then release it into the surrounding air. The porous porcelain I used here would not be suitable for an application on the skin.
So I guess the conclusion is that the difference in approaching both functions lays in the extra attention to tactility in creating objects for personal perfumes.

When it comes to the fragrances themselves I also believe that a perfume worn needs a more complex composition in order for a person to identify with it and make it an extension of their personal style, while in a room fragrance a simple natural note can be more sufficient.

You combine natural objects and cosmetics. What do you think is the reason for people longing for real, natural experiences in that sector? 

I think the reason for that simply is that we are a part of nature and wish to feel that when applying things to our skin.
But in a bigger and more futuristic vision, my perception is that no matter how cultivated we are now, we have not reached our full potential until we are able to really live in a cultivated harmony with nature.
Connecting this to your question, I think this longing in, for example, cosmetics is one of the many paths that will eventually take us to this potential paradise that harmonizes nature, technology and the arts, and that I hope we are headed towards.