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Waterside Recreation

Marika Troili's four-month running exhibition 'Waterside Recreation' makes for one of our favourite exhibitions to have seen in the first quarter of the year passed, with 2019 beginning on a terrific note catching it at Marabouparken. It informs at the core the development plan of Sundbyberg; the location of the exhibition venue, which links aspirational qualities of living to the nearby Bällsta stream. The discrepenacies between the idealized image of the stream and its present and actual realities is what caught the artist's interest in the midst, and is what most significantly imprints this must-see exhibition at hand.

C-P: On very intuitive and immediate level, I felt very compelled by your ongoing exhibition at Marabouparken which struck me as exceptionally well-balanced and atmospherical. Somehow it occurred to mind that this is the sort of exhibition that could easily have appeared flat and overtly heavy on the intellectual sourcing, whereas you rather press on a more visceral point in relation to the visitor. The title itself is one that would have instantly caught my attention amid a sea of exhibition listings. What entry into the exhibition does the title Waterside Recreation serve?

M.T: It is good to hear your experience of the installation, as for me it was important it carried an emotional response. Concerning the title, recreation comes from Latin re: "again", creare: "to create, bring forth, beget". Deriving from that, the title points towards the current transformation and re-creation of the stream and its surroundings, as well as to how it is, to some degree, recreated in the exhibition space. The title is taken from the development plan of the municipality of Sundbyberg, where Marabouparken konsthall is located. This document was the spark that ignited my investigation into the Bällsta stream. The reason it caught my attention was its speculative content, drawing the outlines of how the city will look in the future. I found it very interesting how the focus of the plan was so directed towards the non-urban, green areas in this very densely populated municipality. The (turbid and polluted) Bällsta stream is mentioned quite a few times and rendered with great importance. It is said to 'increase the well-being of the inhabitants' and give 'opportunities for waterside recreation', I found that particular sentence quite tendentious. I knew little of this stream but I had heard stories that gave a very different picture. Hence, I decided to take a closer look at the stream and its projected ''image'.

C-P: One of the centerpiece works in the exhibition, encompassing large parts of the gallery room is a spatial installation from the ceiling of a repetition of cans of water armed inside with water pumps, It generates altogether a heavy audible pulsation; a symbolic expression of breathing, attesting seemingly the essential nature of water in relation to all our inherent and external “systems”. Primal yet a very beautiful display to me. What was your entry into this work?

M.T: It felt important to me to have the stream present in the exhibition space, also in a physical way. The water in the installation is water from Bällsta stream itself, and I found the cans during my wanderings. I think of the semi-transparent surface of the cans and their unknown previous use and content, as a way of posing the question of what the water itself contains. Another element, is that the water is kept in constant movement by fountain pumps and I was interested in the fountain as a decorative construction, and how that relates to the ways the stream is portrayed. The audible pulsation that you mention consists of the sound of the water, but also the sound of the pump engines. At first I found the engine noise annoying, as if it was disturbing the sound of the water. But then it dawned on me how the noise brings to mind the ‘developmental machinery’ which currently operates upon the Bällsta stream. It is not a coincidence that several new residential areas are being constructed along the stream as we speak. The proximity of water generates (financial) value to the developers.

C-P: You mentioned finding the cans while wandering around the Bällsta sream and there are other incidental tokens in the exhibition of this as well that allude to the accidental and organic processes that water gives rise to, along the lines of narratives of “lost and forgotten”, which was the case with an installation of decaying footballs in the gallery room. I wonder when moving along the Bällsta Stream, if there was that one or few pivotal moments of experiencing an epiphany of whatever kind?

M.T: The wanderings were a slow process of developing an affection to the stream and its surroundings. To move in this way―searching for everything and nothing―is fascinating and exhausting. I'm being attentive to every detail, whilst allowing myself to speculate and read meaning into what I come across. When I found traces of beavers living along the stream I got truly excited but also slightly worried of what would happen to them as the waterside transforms into an environment designed by humans and becomes a building site. I happened to pass an area along the stream at the same time when a large number of trees were being cut to clear space for buildings, it was a swift process. The remodelling of the waterside by both humans and beavers was something I wanted to convey in the exhibition.

For a while I was working with two photos that I had made on my walks, one of a tree brought down by the beavers and one of a tree cut down by humans. In my studio I was trying to find the right way to display these photos, testing different sizes and printing materials, different set-ups, making drawings of the photos etc.. But nothing felt really right. Several people with whom I discussed the work suggested I should go out and cut off the tree stumps and exhibit them instead of the photos. I was not very fond of that idea, it felt too invasive even if it would possibly make for a 'nice' artwork. In December I did one of my last walks along the stream before the exhibition and, suddenly, in front of me, on the muddy ground, I saw a tree stump with the characteristic marks made by the beavers’ teeth. I bent down and turned it over, then I saw how it had been cut off with a saw on the other side. There it was, a manifestation of the idea I had been trying to give a form! This was an almost magical moment and a material epiphany, one could say.

C-P: Urban planning and aspirational ideas about future living relating to Sundbyberg may rest at fore of the exhibition but the exhibition more so than that also has closer site-specific parallels to the history of Marabouparken itself from a time when it was still a chocolate factory. Tell me more about this train of thought.

M.T: The title also relates to the history behind Marabou’s sculpture park, which is located next to the exhibition space. The park was created in 1937 for "recreational" purposes of the factory workers. As part of my research for the exhibition I read Kvinnor som slavar, (eng. Women As Slaves) written by Kajsa Ohrlander in 1972. The book contains interviews with women who worked at the chocolate factory, as well as the author’s reflections. It is explicitly critical of the working conditions at the Marabou chocolate factory, which is in other historical sources often portrayed as rather decent. Ohrlander makes a few satirical comments about the 'cause' of opening the sculpture park and art in it, speculating that it was made to silence and conform the workers, and how it assumed the workers had no culture of their own.

I draw a connection to the development plan and how the stream and 'nature' serve a similar purpose in the municipality, that of leading the attention elsewhere, being some sort of alibi for a continued densification of the city. In my imagination, the citizens are the factory workers. Recreation, at least in the Swedish meaning of the word, means to recover or heal, which implies some damage has been previously made. And perhaps both the recreation offered by the sculpture park and the waterside recreation reproduce a system that makes us, humans (factory workers), and non-human bodies ill?

C-P: A public talk was held in connection to exhibition joining as well artist Lisa Torell who is also currently exhibiting with a solo presentation at Marabouparken revolving around notions of who is entitled to the public sphere and its domains and not. What were some of the revelations that came up during and following the talk for you?

M.T: Lisa Torell has made the great book Place to Place, which contains "9 artists reflection about site-specificity and place-related processes", and the talk had a similar point of departure. We talked about how my (working) process in this project involved walks, boat trips, reading, listening, and repetition, returning to a site multiple times. One of the things Lisa asked was if I had considered not using the exhibition space, to show my work outside white cube, on site instead. This question occured to me again after the talk, so I'll take this opportunity to say something more about it. For me, an intimacy with site is often how I begin an investigation and develop a process for my work, however it is also important to me to bring objects, materials, and thoughts into my studio, to see them differently, to engage with their possible meanings. And the estrangement which happens when placing the works and found objects in the white cube extends this type of process, it helps to create another stream. I think the distance to the 'real' stream also leaves a greater space for imagination. And last but not least, it brings the works to a somewhat abstract level, where they can be read not only in relation to the Bällsta stream.

C-P: Lastly, what will you up be to with your artistic practice this year in 2019, following the current exhibition?

M.T: For some reason I cannot let go of the Bällsta stream yet, so my observations will continue. The plan is to make a small publication or artist book which might feature material that was generated in the process, but in the end excluded from the exhibition, together with new findings. I'm really looking forward to seeing what a different format might do to the material.

In May I am participating in PARSE Art and work, an event organised at Skogen in Gothenburg. I will show a remake and destruction of an old work, a process-based piece in which my endeavor to learn how to throw a plate on a potter’s wheel served as a backdrop for a more complex set of questions around emotional labor and how to perform a personality attractive to the labor market.

Apart from that I hope to continue a few collaborative projects, that have been suffering while I was occupied with this exhibition.

Marika's exhibition Waterside Recreation is on view at Marabouparken until April 28

Images courtesy of Marabouparken. Photo credits: Jean-Baptister Béranger

To learn more about Marika Troili;

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