A troll tale of humans vs. nature, under construction at Morton Arboretum

A troll tale of humans vs. nature, under construction at Morton Arboretum Exhibit creator uses humor to make environmental point

 
 
Updated 5/15/2018 3:17 PM
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  • Artist Thomas Dambo says the sculptures he's building at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, including this reclining troll, are designed to encourage visitors to consider their personal responsibility as stewards of our environment.

      Artist Thomas Dambo says the sculptures he's building at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, including this reclining troll, are designed to encourage visitors to consider their personal responsibility as stewards of our environment. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

As you stroll through Lisle's Morton Arboretum this summer, will you be the hunter or the hunted?

The choice is yours, and it all depends on how you treat the trolls.

Troll Hunt, the first large-scale U.S. exhibition from Danish artist Thomas Dambo, will feature six colossal wooden trolls that intend to make their home in the 1,700-acre outdoor museum beginning June 22 and continuing into the foreseeable future.

Dambo says his guardians of the forest are actually the protagonists in a global story he intends to tell through a series of exhibits he calls the "Great Story About the Little People and the Giant Trolls."

"For me, the trolls represent nature and (they) have been living on this planet since the dawn of time. And then these small creatures (humans) come from outer space and they are really nice. The trolls try to befriend them, but the humans start cutting down the trees where the trolls made their homes," Dambo said recently while constructing the trolls. "I've done the first two chapters of the story, and now we are at the chapter where the trolls are fed up with the people and have decided to eat the people. They're setting up traps to catch the people and protect the forest."

The first chapter of the story was created in Dambo's hometown of Copenhagen.

The second, he said, was completed several weeks ago in South Korea.

The fourth and fifth chapters will be told in Belgium and China, respectively.

Thomas Dambo built the heads and feet of his sculptures in Denmark and shipped them to Lisle, where the bodies are being constructed at the Morton Arboretum.
  Thomas Dambo built the heads and feet of his sculptures in Denmark and shipped them to Lisle, where the bodies are being constructed at the Morton Arboretum. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Between now and June 22, Dambo and a team of 60 preapproved volunteers are creating the 15- to 20-foot tall sculptures using thousands of pieces of reclaimed wood, including battered boards, fallen trees and branches, and the remains of pallets and packing crates.

Each of the trolls is being constructed and placed throughout the arboretum property. Maps are expected to be available, but Dambo said he hopes guests try to find the creatures on their own while exploring the grounds.

"It's a troll hunt and all the trolls are hidden," Dambo said.

"You're going to go and hunt for the trolls, and then at some point you realize you're the hunted one yourself. I thought that was kind of funny."

While visitors will be encouraged to interact with the large pieces, Dambo also hopes the trolls will encourage folks to consider their personal responsibility as stewards of our environment.

"Often when we talk about this, we do it in a boring and unentertaining way. So I'm trying to talk about it in a funny way that includes people and entertains people," he said. "I'm just showing, one to one, that trash can make you smile and be a good little adventure."

The six wooden trolls will be placed across the arboretum grounds to encourage visitors to leave their cars and explore nature.
  The six wooden trolls will be placed across the arboretum grounds to encourage visitors to leave their cars and explore nature. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

One troll, he said, will kneel near a "trap," a simple wooden crate propped open with a stick. One end of a string is tied to the stick, while the other end is clasped in its hand as the creature waits to catch a human for study.

"Under the trap will be something shiny because the trolls caught on quickly that the annoying people really like shiny objects," Dambo said.

Another troll will sit next to a tree, holding a long rod that crosses a low-hanging tree branch. At the end of the rod will dangle a net that visitors can climb into to be "captured."

"If you are good to the trolls, the trolls will be good to you," he said.

"It's a story about man and nature and the wild and the forest."

Additionally, Dambo said he will create a troll habitat tucked away in a wooded glen that will give troll-seekers a glimpse into the way these creatures live.

"You can only find it by leaving your car and walking around in nature. It won't be on any maps," he said.

"I think it's really important that people leave their cars when they go into the forest. Many people forget that they have many different senses when they're trapped in a car."

Dambo's trolls officially will go on display June 22, but for now, visitors to the Morton Arboretum can watch the artist and his team create the sculptures.
  Dambo's trolls officially will go on display June 22, but for now, visitors to the Morton Arboretum can watch the artist and his team create the sculptures. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Arboretum officials and Dambo said they began collaborating on the project last year after the arboretum staff became aware of his work and Dambo visited the site.

"At the Morton Arboretum, we are inside a beautiful forest, but also the industrialized world is also very present at the same time with (I-88) right there," he said. "This combination, this balance, inspired me to do this chapter here."

Sarah Sargent, the arboretum's manager of interpretation and exhibits, said Dambo's presentation is a perfect marriage of his message and the arboretum's mission.

"Not only is he creating site-specific art for us, but we love the aesthetic of using recycled and reclaimed wood because it really suits our mission of caring for trees and being aware of how humans impact the environment," Sargent said.

"This is the first time in a long time that we've been able to have guests come and watch art being built. It's really exciting for people to watch them emerging."

"I'm just showing, one to one, that trash can make you smile and be a good little adventure," Dambo says of his troll exhibit.
  "I'm just showing, one to one, that trash can make you smile and be a good little adventure," Dambo says of his troll exhibit. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

The trolls are expected to remain at the arboretum for about two years, depending on how they survive in the elements.

For more information about Troll Hunt at The Morton Arboretum, visit mortonarb.org/troll-hunt.

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