Egill Sæbjörnsson

Ars Fennica candidate 2019

The Icelandic artist Egill Sæbjörnsson is possibly best known for his imaginary friends. They are Ugh and Boogar – 36 metre, coffee loving, human eating trolls, who gained global notoriety at the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2017.

The idea for Ugh and Boogar came up in 2007, when Sæbjörnsson saw some long snouted troll figures in a souvenir shop. They began to grow in his mind. “It started as just me flirting with the phenomenon of trolls and then they became these imaginary characters […] without really even intending to make art with them. But as they got bigger and bigger, they eventually took over my life,” he says. “They are a little bit like megalomaniacs with a really big temper.”

When the trolls heard that their friend had been invited to the Biennale, they grew envious and hijacked the Icelandic pavilion for themselves. A unique exhibition emerged, which was widely reported in the international press.

You have to strike while the iron is hot. In that same year, the resourceful trolls launched the range of luxury goods that they had designed and commandeered Helsinki’s Galerie Anhava as their shop. On the elegant sales tables were jewellery and bottles of perfume, their sizes enormous and their surfaces glistening gold. We might perhaps say that the trolls’ taste still lacks polish.

Along with art and music, Egill Sæbjörnsson (b. 1973) has studied Tibetan Mentalphysics, clowning, 3D animation and interactive programing, in both Reykjavik and Paris. He is a multidisciplinary artist, whose art is based both on the use of technology as a continuation of painting and sculpture, and on combining real objects and projected illusions with sound, music and performance.

The giant trolls fit this picture well when we think of Icelandic folklore, which teems with fairies, goblins and other beings. The Icelandic artist is aware of the clichés associated with his home country and is able to have fun at their expense.

At the same time, Sæbjörnsson’s art is clever, sincere and profound. It surprises, amuses and confuses. It poses serious questions about existence, but does so in a way that both the artist himself and his viewers can enjoy. Even though Sæbjörnsson’s works are experimental and innovative, it is important to him that we do not require any separate instructions, study or background information to understand them.

Timo Valjakka
Translation Mike Garner

Egill Sæbjörnsson born 1973 in Reykjavik


1995 1996 Université Paris 8. St.Denis. France 1993 1997 The Icelandic College of Arts and Craft. Reykjavik

Selected Solo exhibitions

2018 The Stairs. The National Gallery of Prague. Cur: Adam Budak
2017 Ugh & Boogar Jeweleries. Gallery Anhava. Helsinki
2017 Ugh & Boogar Jeweleries. i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
2017 La Biennale de Venezia. 57th International Art Exhibition. Icelandic Pavilion Cur. Stefanie  Böttcher
2016 The building as a being and the city as a stage. Hafnarborg. Hafnarfjordur
2016 Time Bridge. Samlung Dahlmann. Invited by Insitu. Berlin
2015 Young Projects Gallery. Los Angeles
2015 The Egg or the Hen, Us or Them. Naturhistorisches Museum Basel
2015 O Lagarto. Oi Futuro. Rio de Janeiro
2014 Egill Sæbjörnsson. Kunstmuseum Ahlen
2014 In Fantasy of Music. Hopstreet gallery. Brussels
2014 Balls. Gallery Anhava. Helsinki
2013 Egill Sæbjörnsson. Hopstreet. Brussels
2012 Egill Sæbjörnsson. i8 Gallery Reykjavik
2011 Double World – One World. Noga Gallery. Tel Aviv
2011 Stonegarden. Studio of Willem de Kooning Long Island NY. Invitation by Robert Wilson and Lisa de Kooning.
2011 The Egg or the Hen, Us or Them. Künstlerhaus Bremen
2010 Animating ideas. Kunstverein Göttingen. Göttingen
2010 Gondolilies. Gallery Sassa Trülzsch. Berlin
2009 The Spirit of a Place & Narration. Reykjavik Art Museum. Reykjavik
2008 Egill Sæbjörnsson. I8 gallery. Iceland
2008 Wall to Wall. In collaboration with Karolin Tampere. HISK. Ghent
2007 Three Daily Exercises. Kölnischer Kunstverein. Cologne
2005 An Idear for Thwoo feet, 2 hands and 4 corners. Isabella Bortolozzi Berlin
2004 Mr. Piano and Mrs. Pile. Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien. Berlin
2004 The Sofa. Reykjavik Art Museum. Reykjavik
2003 You Take all My Time. Cooper Art Galleries / DCA, Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Selected Group exhibitions

2018 Restless Matter. Cobra Museum. Amsterdam. Cur: Xander Karskens
2018 The Art of Simulation Cur: Frank Motz. ACC Weimar
2018 This Rare Earth Stories from Below. STUK. Belgium
2017 The Sun and the Rainfall. Galleria Zero. Milano
2017 Video Portraits. Total Museum of Contemporary Art. Cur: Johann Nowak
2016 On the Shoulders of Giants. Kunsthalle Mainz. Cur. Stefanie Böttcher
2015 Rocks, Stones and Dust. Cur: John Hampton. Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. Toronto
2015 Prototypes, Duplicates and Cast offs. Assembly Line Projects. Chronus Art Center. M50,
2015 Ystad Kunstmuseum. Sweden
2014 Artists Respond to Place. The Scandinavia House. New York
2014 Does Humor Belong to Art? Halle14. Leipzig. Cur: Frank Motz
2014 Artists Respond to Place. Katonah Museum of Art. New York
2014 Your Compound View. Selection from the collection 1970 2010. Reykjavik Art Museum
2014 Duck Soup. Gallery Nordenhake. Stockholm
2013 Nordic Outbreak. Danish Architecture Center.
2013 Form Freiheit. Wilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwicshafen. Cur: Barbara Scheuermann
2013 8 Ways to overcome. Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade. Cur: Stefanie Böttcher and Una Popovi
2012 30 Kunstler/30Räume. Albrecht Dürergesellschaft Nürnberger Kunstverein
2012 Biennale de Dakar – Dak’Art. Nordic Pavilion
2011 Selected Artists. Stipendiaten des Berliner Senats. NGBK. Berlin
2010 FischGrätenMelkStand. Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin. Cur: John Bock
2010 Coup de Ville. Cur: Jan Hout and Stef van Bellingen. SintNiklaas. Belgium
2010 The First International Light Biennial. Ruhr Gebiet. Cur: Matthias Wegner. Germany
2010 Das Wesen im Ding. Cur: Holger Kuber Ventura. Frankfurter Kunstverein
2009 Carnegie Art Award. Nordic Countires, London and Beijing
2009 Le Sang de Poete. Bienale de Nantes. Cur: Adam Budak and Laurence Gateau. Nantes
2009 Never Better Than Late The Elizabeth Foundation Cur: Trong Nguyen. New York
2007 Scandinavian Art. SMoCA, Scottsdale Museum For Contemporary Art. Arizona
2006 Momentum 06 – The 4th Nordic Festival Of Contemporary Art. Moss. Norway
2006 The Peninsula. Singapore History Museum. Singapore
2005 Situations. Museum of Modern Art. Sydney
2004 Berlin North. National Gallery Hamburger Bahnhof. Berlin
2001 Ars01 Kiasma The National Gallery of Finland. Helsinki
2000 Nordic. Contemporary art from the Nordic countries. Kunsthalle Wien. Wien

Selected Events and Performances

2014 The Bakery II. A baking event with Freitagsküche Frankfurt and Zeit für Brot. Cur: Annabelle von Girsenwald. Frankfurt
2013 Egill Sæbjörnsson & The Woomp Doomp Duo. Concert on the opening of The Berlin Art Week.
2013 Brick is the Key. Projection onto the building of Danish Architecture Center, Copenhagen. Part
of the exhibition Nordic Outbreak and Copenhagen Culture night 2013
2012 On the Beach. A special version of “Einstein on the Beach” by Robert Wilson and Philipp Glass.
Collaboration with Marcia Moraes. Invitation by Robert Wilson.
2012 Recreating the world at the speechdesk III. Part of the exhibition “30 Räume / 30 Künstler”.
Albrecht Dürer Gesellschaft Nürnberger Kunstverein.
2011 She Was a Fighter. Performance Clocktower Galleries New York
2011 Recreating the world at the speech desk Johann König gallery Berlin
2011 The Mind IV. With Marcia Moraes. Swiss Institute Rome
2011 What Got you Here, Won’t get You There. Freunde Guter Musik, Hamburger Bahnhof museum für Gegenwart Berlin.
2009 The Mind. Performance. NBK, Berlin, Temporäre Kunsthalle, Berlin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt…
2008 Warm up Festival. P.S.1 MoMA. New York
2007 Three Daily Exercises. Commissioned by Kölnischer Kunstverein. Cologne
2005 An Idear 4 Thwoo Feet, Two Hands & 4 Corners. Gallery Isabella Bortolozzi. Berlin
2004 The Stairs, music performance. Maertz music festival. Hamburger Bahnhof – National Gallery.  Berlin


2012 Stones according to Egill Sæbjörnsson. Text by various authors. Based on the exhibition
The Egg and the Hen, Us or Them, Künstlerhaus Bremen, 2011 Publisher: Künstlerhaus Bremen
and Revolver Verlag, Germany
2009 The Book.. Various authors. Semi monographic with special chapters on various themes in the
works of Egill Sæbjörnsson. Argobooks, Berlin

Public Art Works

2014 Steinkugel. Robert Koch Institut. Berlin
2014 Kaskade. Kunstmuseum Ahlen

The Egg or The Hen, Us or Them, 2011
6 channel video projection with objects and sound
Installation view from This Rare Earth – Stories from Below, at Stuk, Leuven, 2018
photo © Kristof Vranicken
Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


Out of Shoes Humans Grow, 2013
single channel video projection with cowboy boots
Installation view from The Sun and the Rainfall, at Galleria Zero. Milano, 2017
Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


Kaskaden, 2014
video installation
Permanent video installation for the Kunstmuseum Ahlen
Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


From Out of Controll in Venice, 2017
Egill Sæbjörnsson representation for Iceland at the 57th Biennale di Venezia
Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


Ūgh ja Bõögâr – Jewellery, 2017
View from his exhibition in Galerie Anhava, 2017
Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik