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How an artist is trolling the Venice Biennale

9 February 2017

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Time was when trolls were to be found lurking under bridges. In 2017, they are a species more likely to be found harassing liberals on Guardian comment forums – and, as Rakewell now learns, at the Icelandic pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Yes, you did read that correctly. The volcanic island nation is putting forward a spectacle created by artist, musician and animator Egill Sæbjörnsson, for which he has enlisted the help of a pair of trolls who will, apparently ‘create content’ for the show. The trolls, whom Sæbjörnsson has depicted in various media, will ‘take over’ the pavilion for the duration of the Biennale, creating art, terrorising visitors and presumably posting it all up on their Twitter accounts.

Sæbjörnsson says that he ‘met’ Ūgh and Bõögâr, as the two creatures are known, in 2008. ‘At first they thought they should eat him’, he writes of their first encounter. ‘But since they were tired of always doing everything in the same way, they decided to do something new’. And so began an enduring friendship.

Quite what any of this actually means remains to be seen, but Sæbjörnsson’s insistence that his creations are in fact flesh and blood (or whatever it is trolls are supposed to made out of) may have some credence. Fans of Sæbjörnsson’s compatriot Ragnar Kjartansson may be aware that he created a gigantic statue of a particularly notable troll known as Bárður Snæfellsás in a remote corner of his homeland. On the page devoted to the sculpture on its website, the Icelandic tourist board informs us that the folkloric legend of Bárður is ‘a very true story although [it] sounds like fantasy’.

‘Bárður’s cave is still in situ’, it reads, ‘and his story is a timeless, fantastic read. It is, of course, a true story written about events that occurred in Iceland more than eleven hundred years ago, written about six hundred years ago.’

Visitors to Venice, you have been warned…

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.