Whether speaking of the unsightly mythical beasts of Norse mythology or the inflammatory online posters of 4chan, the word ‘troll’ carries strong, negative connotations. Yet Norwegian artist Tori Wrånes not only embraces the term, but actively transforms herself into troll-like characters in her exquisite performances, sometimes donning purple and white fur-like hair, and other times wearing a bulbous mask while riding a hoverboard and playing a flute.
Although every performance is unique and every troll character different in appearance and behavior, there is a strong underlying thread throughout her performances. Hoping to blur the line between sound and language, the artist often intones sounds in a non-language (or perhaps ‘troll language’) during her performances.
“I have always found words kind of limiting. I think communicating with sounds instead of words is still about language; it is just another kind of language. I find it frustrating sometimes how much hierarchy there is in language,” the artist explains to The Creators Project. “The lack of distinct words [in my performances] creates freedom in reflecting. I think this openness also makes it easier for more people to find a way in, but I guess it can also be the opposite. People tend to be afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Although her troll language is presented and intoned in a way that gives it a linguistic quality, there are in fact no set language barriers in her performances: “The troll language is improvised. I seldom rehearse it. It comes along as I create a character. The people, the architecture, the space itself and its history define the performance and the flow of the improvisation. It is such a radical place to be if you are in the flow.”
When she isn’t performing, Wrånes creates sculptures that sometimes mimic the chaos and primacy of her troll characters, with heavily textured, splattered paint and dangling rocks swaying in the air. Other sculptures, like her piece Tennis Cat, shown at 1646 last year, are more contained and humorous.
The relationship between her sculptures and performances are complex and not as straightforward as one might imagine: “I think it is difficult to separate the sculptures from the performances and vice-versa because they all come from my own body of thinking. Sometimes I can do a performance in a black room with only my voice, with no objects. If I need objects in the performance I make them, but I also make sculptures without thinking about performance,” Wrånes tells The Creators Project.
Ultimately, Wrånes is concerned with using her performances and sculptures to reveal that which is obscured in human identity: “I believe we are all trolls. Trolls only come out when it is dark, and it feels like that’s what we are doing too. When visible, we try to show and present our best sides, to be happy and pretty. I am more interested in what happens when you turn off the light. In that sense, the troll in my work represents the full identity of a person, an honest presence with a mix of good and bad.”