Images: Thomas Dambo’s Fantastical Eco Troll Sculptures are Now Dotting Denmark’s Countryside

Image by Morten Fog

Despite its modern usage in characterizing a form of online harassment, the word “troll” actually dates back to 17th Century Scandinavian folklore, where it described a mystical and supernatural being. Thankfully, there are still people who embrace that more romantic assignation, by not only making cultural reference the magical creatures, but in the case of artist Thomas Dambo going so far as to build massive sculptures of them. It’s something of a trope for the Danish sculptor, as he and his artistic associates have been disproportionally disposed to that particular theme in recent years.

Dambo is actually known as the world’s most prominent recycle artist, in that all of his works are created from found and discarded materials – from wood to plastics and beyond – and are meant to convey some sort of environmentally positive message. It started in the mid-aughts when the at-that-time tagger, wanting to make a more approachable type of street art, decided to create and install small birdhouses out of scrap wood and donated paint; 3,500 birdhouses later Happy City Birds remains an ongoing project (we get the distinct sense that Mr. Dambo may be slightly obsessive).

His latest obsession brings us back to the trolls, and the Giant Troll Treasure Hunt, a community project that involved over 1000 volunteers for the better part of Covid ‘20, in the creation of ten giant wooden creatures that now dot the Danish countryside, as part of a truly fantastical public arts initiative. Yet as with so many things that resulted from our pandemic lockdown conditions, Dambo had certainly not planned on spending the entirety of 2020 building giant troll sculptures; rather, his year was to be packed with installations at the Olympics, Burning Man, Bonnaroo, and so on and on; it took the cancelling of, well, everything to inspire this new project – and it is irrefutable proof of art’s ability to transcend tragedy.

“I just went from having so many projects, to having no projects at all,” Dambo explains. “Covid wiped my calendar clean. So the project was a way of putting my mind away from that loss, but also of directing that energy towards something positive. I think we had a thousand people come out and help scavenge wood, take pallets apart…and make sandwiches. It was really a community project, and we adhered to Covid protocol of course.”

And considering we were otherwise living through a tragedy of quasi-apocalyptic proportions, the very notion of using art as a way to escape into something of a fairytale world, seemed not just reasonable, but almost imperative and necessary.

“It was so fun to be a part of a timeless little bubble,” he enthuses, “where nothing else existed and we just lived inside this fairytale, building trolls in the forest. It was really the best summer ever and just the perfect way to introduce my American wife to Denmark – and to all my friends around the country we met along the way in the six months it took us to build all the sculptures.” 

The location of each has actually been kept secret, with clues to their whereabouts at a treasure hunt webpage. All of them can be reached by foot or bike, and have been visited by hundreds of thousands of people in just a few months. So what started out being a project for Dambo to lift his own spirits, turned into something positive and uplifting for the entire country…as well as for all of those around the world who have followed the project online. 

Bottom image by Michael Bo Rassmussen

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