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A Gallery Named Toll

"But it has to be said that my intentions are not to be a gallerist, even though I assume that I am in some kind of way. I just want to create more random spaces for art in the public realm. Art can be like alchemy or magic; if I claim this glass vitrine to be a gallery then it is a gallery. In art you are allowed to play and I love that", says Maria Toll, artist and founder of Galleri Toll which just expanded with an additional location in Berlin.

Galleri Toll, Clara Aldén, Tiny Desires, Stockholm

C-P: You are an artist who studied in Norway and who after coming back to Sweden have been taking on the role of curator/producer and gallerist to create opportunities for other artists than yourself. But first, what can be said of your own artistic practice and how has transitioning back from Norway after a few years been for you on a personal note as an artist?

M.T: When I moved back from Bergen to Stockholm I hadn’t lived here since five years. Three years in Norway and before that two years in Gerlesborg in Bohuslän. Since I hardly knew anything about art before moving to Gerlesborg I’m still new to the art scene in Stockholm, even though it is my hometown. It’s always hard to move back when you have lived a while in other places but I knew it would be extra hard artistically. I knew I wouldn’t find an affordable studio at once, but above all else most of my art friends, colleagues and contacts were still living in Bergen or had moved elsewhere. My biggest fear was that I would move to Stockholm and experience the typical post-graduation depression. So when my classmates applied for MA-programs I applied for funding for the project Galleri Toll, just to know that I would come back to something. Galleri Toll actually started as a way to keep contact with my Bergen friends since the first artists I invited were old friends from there. In my studio-based practice I work with sculpture and installation. My interest is to create associations to collective memories, feelings and experiences that are linked to a specific room or object. It is often told through a fragmented way. How much visual information can I remove and still retain the feeling of that particular room or object? I think my love for the Bauhaus school, Marie-Louise Ekman, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen shines through a lot.

Maria Toll with Nikki Fager Myrholm

C-P: Navigating in the local art scene in Stockholm, what are some things that might have struck you as peculiar or distinctive about the structures and realities here? What is the climate like for emerging artists today?

M.T: First of all it is so hard to find an affordable studio in Stockholm, I rent mine third-hand. Sometimes I can feel there is a certain pressure to ”succeed" here, without knowing exactly what that means. Is there a greater urge to be ”discovered”? Maybe the pressure creates less playfulness, less one-night-only events and performances than what I experienced in Bergen. But I know there are interesting things happening both outside and inside the city, it can just be hard to find them since they are often pop-ups at different temporary locations. Nothing wrong with that, I arrange those sort of things sometimes myself, but I can long for permanent artist-run spaces which are quite few considering the size of Stockholm. To be harsh I think the demographic of this town plays a huge role here, it is too expensive to start a new permanent artist-run space.

As an emerging artist you just want to get your things out there to be seen. I have never really exhibited in Stockholm in other ways than in exhibitions I have arranged myself together with friends. I sort of solved it in that way. But it is not as a reaction against the more commercial galleries or museums; I would love to exhibit there as well. I see it more as an addition, one does not need to exclude the other. I want to do everything!

Galleri Toll, Malin Westin, Funloving Scorpio, Stockholm

C-P: Galleri Toll presents as a window gallery by the Ropsten metro exit. This democratic approach of bringing art out to the public realm, also to passerby who lack the intent to see art, is one that is commendable and appears sympathetic. What do you see as the challenge to operate in this particular fashion?

M.T: When you do something in the public realm you have to maintain a certain kind of humbleness. I mean after all, the audience that will actually experience the exhibitions the most are, as you mention, the passersby which means that they will probably think it is their gallery, in their neighborhood. You have to always keep that in mind and respect that. So they will say things like ”I didn’t like the last exhibition so I hope this one will be better” when I sit inside the vitrine like a fish in a bowl repainting the floor. But surprisingly I have got had one proper complaint during these two years. Often the passersby express that they are just happy that there is something else there instead of commercials and that they are excited to see what will be next.

When I signed the contract with SL, Liv Strömquist’s exhibition at Slussen metro station was still being shown. The one with the famous menstruation drawings. SL told me that they would like me to avoid exhibiting things that could be considered offensive. I think that art should be free, but I really don't have an interest in exhibiting offensive art in that vitrine which is why I didn’t really argue with them about it. When I invite artists to exhibit I don’t ask for a specific art piece. I think it is important that you are given free hands to do what you want so I invite them based on their practice. But I do have two rules; one is no offensive things and the other is no technical equipment that is likely to be stolen. I’m not saying that the art isn't valuable, but you know what I mean.

Maria Toll, Men då får du inte komma på mitt kalas. Exhibition: Open Window.

C-P: The Toll empire is expanding! Now with another gallery space in the metro of Berlin. Is there additional plans of expanding and what have been the considerations around starting in Berlin?

M.T: Only time and money are the limits! I see vitrines everywhere and have created a kind of obsession about them. You could see the two vitrine galleries as a sign of my laziness. I mean, the thing with Galleri Toll is that it is right where I live in Stockholm. Kunsthalle Alles Toll is right where I live when I am in Berlin in my friend’s so-called cat residency, which basically is that I take care of her amazing cats while she is away doing exhibitions or teaching at schools. She once called me and asked if I had seen the vitrine in the closest metro station and I was like ”I have loved that vitrine ever since I saw it the first time” and she was like ”You should have it!”.

When I applied for the one year working grant from the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, I promised myself that if I got the grant I would have to have that vitrine. And I was lucky to get the grant and you have to keep your promises. But it has to be said that my intentions are not to be a gallerist, even though I assume that I am in some kind of way. I just want to create more random spaces for art in the public realm. I see it as a part of my artistic work since I am interested in the public space. I think it is interesting to treat these spaces with the same respect as you would do with a traditional gallery. Art can be like alchemy or magic, if I claim this glass vitrine to be a gallery then it is a gallery. In art you are allowed to play and I love that. I think the three main reasons why I do these projects are that I want to help other emerging artists like myself, make art public and that I just want to have fun. In Bergen my classmates Sigrid Lerche and Felix Exner Lenzing started a gallery in a watch called ”Gallery Watch on Felix’s arm”. For the opening they asked the director of Bergen Kunsthall, Axel Wieder, to have an opening speech outside the Kunsthall. That is fun and fearless. I can miss that in Stockholm; the playfulness and unpretentiousness.

Kunsthalle Alles Toll, Esben Holk, (C)LICK, Berlin

C-P: Run me through some memorable moments and some exhibitions you did to date with Toll? I thought your recent exhibitions with Richard Krantz and Malin Westin looked great. Two interesting artists among others who you’ve exhibited.

M.T: For the inaugural exhibition at Galleri Toll I invited my former classmate Amalie Vestergaard Olsen. As I always do with the exhibitors, I trusted her artistic freedom and didn’t really know what she would exhibit. It turned out to be big, very nice and funny comic drawings which also included drawn dick-pics. I remember I became very nervous. The work was great but I was afraid that SL would withdraw my contract. So I e-mailed SL and was like ”Is this ok?” with attached pictures and they were like ”Well, it should be, but if you get complaints you have to take it down”. It ended up with me and Amalie doing small stars in black that I could attach to the dick-picks if anyone got offended. I never had to use them and I guess the whole thing was also just me being so nervous about launching Galleri Toll.

Galleri Toll, Sarali Borg, Instrument för Bohr / Den mest sannolika positionen, Stockholm

To choose some specific exhibitions among the 25 that I have presented so far is like asking your parents which is their favorite child. I love them all! But generally I really like when the work has a dialogue with the space. In a way it is a small space but at the same time you always have to consider the corridor as a part of the room. Sarali Borg, who studies at Mejan (Royal Institute of Art) at the moment, did an interactive piece a year ago. She had made big metal sculptures that moved. She had attached heat-sensitive sensors outside the vitrine which reacted to the movements of the the passersby so when you were close to the vitrine the movement of the sculptures froze. I also think Clara Aldén’s installation worked really good with the text on the glass. But as I said, it’s impossible to choose. I love them all.

C-P: Lastly, you’ve also been part of presenting Hjorten Sculpture Park by open call. The notion of open calls is one that should be utilized a lot more in Stockholm. It appears to get more common but has felt like a rare occurrence. What’s next in store for the sculpture park?

M.T: Hjorten started with me and the artist Nikki Fager Myrholm wanting to create a one-night-only sculpture park in Hjorthagen. The working title was simply just Hjorten Sculpture Park. We started to plan it early in February and when Corona really hit Europe we saw art initiatives in both Bergen and Berlin where artists were invited to exhibit in their windows and balconies because most of the museums and galleries were closed. Even though Stockholm didn’t have a hard lock-down, most of the things were closed. So we did an open call where everyone who wanted could send their address to us and install whatever they wanted in their windows for one weekend. We created a map and a qr-code and put it on posters around the city and suggested that the exhibitors would do the same. There were 72 artists who participated in the exhibition 'Open Window' which was very flattering. And then we needed a name for our duo project so we just stuck with Hjorten. In the beginning of June we arranged Hjorten Sculpture Park where over 60 artists exhibited for one evening.

It would be nice to be able to pay the artists but we don’t have any money, we do everything for free. We even borrowed the copy machine at my father’s work for the small exhibition catalogues. At the moment we are planning the next open call for the sculpture park for spring 2021. We also have ideas for a zine and very soon we will release a package of temporary tattoos made by us and the artists Tora Kirchmeier, Rebecka Stone, Astrid Hjortdal and Maria Jacobson. The release will be online and it will be possible to order the tattoos. In that way you can see the exhibition live in your home on your own body. We thought that the body could be a temporary gallery as well, especially now when as museums are closed and you should avoid traveling.


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