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The lady painter on the canal-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 - Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery
The lady painter on the canal-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 - Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery
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This Icelandic Artist Trolls the 2017 Venice Biennale

Picture of Camille Buckley
Updated: 29 June 2017
At the 57th Venice Biennale, Egill Saebjörnsson is representing Iceland at the Icelandic Pavilion. The artist has involved two fictional, technicolor trolls that have been part of his imagination for the past ten years. The mountain trolls, Ugh and Bõögâr, apparently took over the creation of the Icelandic Pavilion from the artist earlier this year. They are now in Venice, wreaking typical troll havoc and working for the installation Out of Controll in Venice.

Egill Sæbjörnsson is well known for using humor and the fantastical in his work to reflect on heavy subject matters, and in Venice he pushes that humor to new realms. Egill uses it to reflect on contemporary society, and art at the Venice Biennale in general, by making the visitor consider existence from the perspective of a pair of mountain trolls. Trolls with shape-shifting abilities and rather human interests, such as making large-scale installation art, mixing perfumes (with the help of real human perfumers), dressing up in clothes like a human, and drinking coffee.

Ügh eating in Venice-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery
Ügh eating in Venice-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery

Commissioned by Eiríkur Thorláksson and curated by Stefanie Böttcher, the exhibit invites visitors to literally walk around inside the trolls’ heads, which are formed with video installations coming from two three-story structures. Spectators can take part in the literal trolling while enjoying a cup of coffee from the espresso bar inside the exhibition, and as the trolls discuss what it would be like to eat you for dinner.

The lady painter on the canal-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery
The lady painter on the canal-Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery

The trolls have magical morphing abilities and have even taken the shape of Donald Trump for example. With their huge protuberant noses and bad temper, the trolls are refreshingly unworldly and provide a very alternative perspective to the general atmosphere of the Venice Biennale. In an interview with Berlin Art Link, the artist describes the effect of having the trolls – which began in his own imagination – mix with the imaginations of others:

“So, everything [the trolls] say and do is kind of created by us: by Stefanie, or the people at the Pavilion, or me. But because they exist as an idea between all of us, it’s like they almost have a life of their own. They are entities. You too now have some image of them, which is different from mine. And through all of the projected images, they get rendered into a real thing.”

Ügh and Bõögâr visiting ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’_Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery
Ügh and Bõögâr visiting ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’_Out of Controll in Venice, 2017, Icelandic Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2017 – Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery

Egill Sæbjörnsson’s particular blend of fantasy, ridiculousness, and humor is used to seemingly strategic effect, allowing communication with the audience in ways that are both immediate and subtle, bypassing the sometimes convoluted nature that Venice Biennale pavilions are known for. With Egill’s interest in the ways in which mental and physical reality interact with one another, video is a prime medium for this exploration, which, at its most basic level, explores the division between inner and outer realities. Just as we constantly project thoughts out onto the world and record with our senses, the medium of video captures this expertly – and with the added fantastical element, many layers are open to interpretation.

Egill Sæbjörnsson (1973) is based in Berlin. Most of his work features video installation, music, and technology. He attended the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts (now the Iceland Academy of the Arts) and the University of Paris St. Denis. He is represented by i8 Gallery in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Spazio Punch, Giudecca, Venice Italy, +39 348 890 9065