Tori Wrånes “Handmade Acoustics” at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw

Interview to Tori Wrånes


The exhibition, Handmade Acoustics—curated by Joanna Zielinska and on view at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw—condenses all the aspects of Tori Wrånes’ transdisciplinary practice, which interposes music, visual tropes, and performative arts. The show is simultaneously an exhibition, an installation, a stage set, and a concert, exploring the themes of the troll (a folkloristic creature dear to the Norwegian artist), gender, and the capacity of the body, voice in particular. Handmade Acoustics is part of a series of performative projects that explores new exhibition formats, specifically the performative exhibition.


MOUSSE: Tell us the idea behind this show at Ujazdowski Castle.

TORI WRANES: I did a performance a while ago, and someone wrote in the program that I was a multidisciplinary artist. But then this guy came to me afterwards and said, “Hey, I don’t think you’re multidisciplinary. I think your work is transdisciplinary.” And I really liked it because I feel like I work with sound and physical objects as one organic mix. I feel that I can see sound. When I sing, I’m putting shapes into the space somehow. The castle has a round tower on each side, and to me they become the two extremes of the show, the edges of the architecture. In the middle room, there is a rotating circular stage/platform. So, all together, the space consists of three circles. I am interested in what moves between the opposites, so I wanted the stage to stare it up. I guess this stage is a formal way of talking about this undefined area in-between, what moves between sound and image. It could also be translated to parallel principles, like all the possible definitions of genders. I think there is a great adventure in-between. 

M: I know that you studied music, theater, and visual art. How has being formally trained in such varied fields informed your work?

TW: Do you know why I studied all those things? Because I was in this rock band for many years and had to attend rehearsals and therefore could not leave the city. I wanted to study art, so I studied all possible art educations around.  

M: Where was this?

TW: In Kristiansand, Norway. To me, each craft is different, but the process and the way of thinking stay mostly the same. All the different expressions have a sort of body. And it is always about rhythm and temperament.

M: What kind of music did your band play?

TW: Electro rock. I was singing, and there was also a drummer, guitar, bass, and a DJ. And another rapper. And I sometimes brought an accordion, as well. After a while, I started another band. It was something like jazz, in the sense of the improvising.

M: I’d say improvisation is a huge part of what you do. 

TW: I am into non-planning, and risks, and to be in the conversation right now. If I use my voice to sing or work with some of the clay paintings, I try to not control but let the material behave as it wishes, and react on how I feel in the moment to find a natural dynamic. I guess I am hunting for freedom in abstract language.   

M: You’re also interested in the body. And you said before that the voice is one of the main conduits for your practice. Is this coming from your experience as a musician?

TW: I think so. But also how it relates to space. So maybe like one room already has a sound or is sound, and then you try to balance the room somehow. It can be with another material. The dynamic of the space can be defined with different material, and a lot of volume can be sound or a lot of material. For example, if a space has a lot of reverb and the sound occupies a lot of space, then it might be enough with small movements? 

M: I get it. It’s a presence. It’s something that’s there. A sound that has its own body. Let’s talk about these creatures you call trolls. You create costumes that you wear in your performances, and you talk and sing in an invented language. Are they related to actual folklore? They are both playful and somehow scary. Where did you first get the idea for them?

TW: I think the first time I worked with trolls was for the Sydney Biennale—although I always worked with weird creatures, so I guess it’s a theme. But at some point, I started to call them trolls. And when I went to Sydney, I was thinking, “What is the most Norwegian?” I grew up in the woods, and I believed in trolls. But I wanted to create my own. 

I think that I always long for more freedom. And the troll, as I interpret them, is like an adventure that doesn’t have any written rules. It’s kind of like this landscape where you can create your own rules and do whatever you want to. And it’s gender-free. The language that I invent is just gibberish that everyone can access. There’s no hierarchy. You can go anywhere in the world. And everyone can go into it equally. No one knows it better than anyone else. Also, the troll only comes out when it’s dark. And it feels like that we are all trolls somehow because we want to present ourselves in the best way. And we don’t show off the bad sides. Like, we try to show the good sides. And I think the troll is kind of representing all specters of being human, all of which I’m interested in: the bad, the good, the evil, the grotesque.

M: Mainly, I would say they’re grotesque yet cute.

TW: Yes, in their ugliness. Which I love. 

M: So you created them because they don’t obey the law?

TW: Yes, it’s like a free space to run off to when you’re bored of daily life. I think we all need that. 

M: They seem, to me, to be about pushing limits because sometimes they play, but in a strange manner. Like you play on a ski lift. Or you play on bikes. A singer on the bikes. A series of situations you create operate according to strange rules. Maybe you cannot play perfectly with gloves on. Or upside down, you cannot sing. Or at least you can’t sing in the normal way. You often talk about not being interested in “perfect” execution, and your performances often seem to put you in uncomfortable situation, such as hanging upside down, or having to play instruments on a bike, or singing with constricting clothing on.

TW: You´re right; it’s about the capacity of the body. Not how beautifully you can sing or how perfectly you can hit that pitch. It’s more like: How much volume do you have in your body? How much volume can you press out? And how does it change if you are hanging upside down? It’s also about looking for new qualities. Like, okay, if I hang like this, the blood comes down to the throat and it gets more difficult to sing. And also, if I’m carrying another musician on my back while I play the accordion, it gets so fucking heavy, It really changes the voice. Because you have to fight it out. There is something about being close to one’s physical limits. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s really difficult to know what you work with. Or to specify it with words. I think a lot of my work has to do with opposites, like this picture where I hang upside down. And it’s like a birth and a hanging. And these wheelchairs support the opposite way. 

M: It’s like something you achieve athletically, doing something that you normally wouldn’t do. It comes up in different parts of your work. Would you call the situations you create immersive, in the sense that you have traces? There’s a lot of layering of parts of your work that keep on mutating, transforming, and being accumulated. What is the effect you aspire to bring to the viewer? Like, someone enters my show and I want them to feel—what?

TW: I think I do what I feel and then try to be honest in that. And then people just have to deal with that. It’s really difficult to say what I want people to feel because I don’t know. I hope they love themselves and that we can respect others might be different.  

M: I think most of the time artists over-intellectualize what they do. But what they really want to do is that.

TW: I think art is always therapy, in a way. But I think it’s real. Because sometimes it’s connected to what you need yourself. I do stuff that I´m wondering about myself, and that I am uncomfortable with, or long for, or whatever. Sometimes when I do performance, it’s like I just want to be together in a moment. It doesn’t have to be any specific thing other than a safe space. It’s not about provoking or anything like that. Can we just be together and feel something in this moment? That is just us? Like, the world is rolling around, but right now we’re just here. And there is some sort of human electricity. And sometimes, if you take it away from our own everyday life—like into this fantasy world or something—people have maybe a possibility to open up more because they didn’t know this from before or experience something that is, I don’t know, within themselves that maybe is good.

M: Do people tell you that that happens to them?

TW: Sometimes people don’t know if they should laugh or cry. I love that. It’s like, what is this? But it’s real emotions. It does something to you that you can’t know in advance.

M: Who would you say you look up to or influenced you in your creation of worlds?

TW: I think it’s really difficult to pinpoint. I mean, I love the capacity of Whitney Houston´s voice, the style of Grace Jones, and the presence of Ana Mendieta. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the people you meet, the people you work with, just life. Anyhow, I guess nature is the biggest inspiration for me. To be at sea and get wild in the forest. 

M: What interests you in the possibility of pluralization between the genders?

TW: I think the freedom to allow yourself to just be who you are. And not let anyone else say that you cannot. The power you can feel that comes from a person who actually tries to live how they want to live. And be who they are. I was totally overwhelmed by a collaboration I did with Red Comunitaria Trans in Bogota, Colombia a couple of months ago. They are fighting to be accepted by the society, but the confidence they have in their bodies is amazing. We worked on a very tight budget, so in the end to make the performance work, we saved money on costumes and went naked. It was a proud moment to stand side by side, playing the willow flutes. And I would say I learned a lot about accepting my own body. I think we all need to accept ourselves. 

M: What are your next steps? How do you feel your work is changing?

TW: I am going underwater in my two next projects: first, the Thailand Biennale in October and then a small music festival north of Norway. Than I go to Russia. The Ancient Babies will be shown in Washington and Seattle, and I am going to China three times. I have never been to China. 


at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
until 30 September 2018

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