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I was first introduced to super-group artist collective Troika around twelve or thirteen years ago, by Keri Elmsly. I was excited to see their show Decode in 2009 at the V&A and have followed their work ever since, and most recently enjoyed seeing Borrowed Light at the Barbican in 2019.

Their keen understanding of people and place means I have proposed them for a number of major public realm commissions, art programmes and collections over the years. Troika are three lovely and very different individual characters, with unique skill sets, ways of seeing, interacting and communicating, and it’s a real treat to spend time discussing and developing ideas with them.

Having worked together now for eighteen years, they have a remarkable process and approach to listening, sharing and making together. Their deep consideration of our relationship to nature and technology is engaging, inspirational and transformative. They make spectacular, playful, dynamic work.

quote mark

Often the physical making of one project is a fruitful catalyst for a new work as it allows thoughts to surface unprovoked.''

Please note this interview was first published on the Artist Mentor website during 2020.

Troika is a collaborative contemporary art group formed by Eva Rucki (b. 1976, Germany), Conny Freyer (b. 1976, Germany) and Sebastien Noel (b. 1977, France) in 2003. They live and work in London.

With a particular interest in the subjective and objective readings of reality and the various relationships we form with technology, they investigate the ways in which the digital world informs and crosses over into the physical one and how technological advancement influences our relationship with the world and with each other.

Troika’s work is part of the permanent collections of M+, Hong Kong, the Victoria & Albert Museum London, The Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA New York, Jumex Collection Mexico, the Israel Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

In 2019 Troika started a research project together with biologists, neuroscientists, the British Antarctic Survey and physicists from Cambridge University which will culminate in a book and a permanent outdoor installation at Cambridge University in 2023. Troika is represented by OMR in Mexico City, and gallery Ron Mandos, Amsterdam.

Eva Rucki, Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I am currently reading Underworld by Robert MacFarlane, whose writing I came across in connection with a three year project that we are currently undertaking with Cambridge University.

It is a fascinating excursion into deep time, the expanses of geological time, and explores the relationship between landscape and humans throughout history. The idea that ‘Viewed from the perspective of a desert or an ocean human mortality looks absurd.’ feels in equal measures nauseating and consoling.

What I haven’t read or watched has probably been as defining in the last months than what I have read. Forgoing social media and the never ending ‘news’ circuit in favour of extended walks and cycles have become a new ritual. The void created by flights-not-taken has made space for more immediate surroundings. It will be interesting to see how much of these new ways we will be carrying with us into our future normal or if we will we just be defaulting to old routines.

Terminal Beach, 2020, Computer animation, custom motion capture, 4:00 min. Sound in collaboration with Dr Nigel Meredith, British Antarctic Survey

What are you working on and how have recent events affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

We work collaboratively as a collective with a studio based practice. So our way of working naturally had to change in the last months. Then again, we have re-invented and adapted our practice on a continuous basis for the past 18 years; so apart from the obvious gravity of the situation, it has been interesting for us to see that we can run our practice in this completely different way yet again.

At the moment we are still predominately working from our respective homes, speaking to each other sometimes several times a day, sometimes every couple of days. That we haven’t returned to the studio yet for good is partly happens stance as we are with most projects in a research phase rather than a ‘making’ phase.

One of these projects is a large scale outdoor installation that we are working towards as part of a three year project with Cambridge University mentioned above. One of the reoccurring themes in our work is how the digital world crosses over into the physical world. In the context of this project we have focused our research on how computational science is employed to explain, model and simulate natural phenomena and life itself.

In addition, we have just completed a short film called Terminal Beach that will be shown at Haus für elektonische Kunst in Basel this August. For the soundtrack we collaborated with Dr Meredith Nigel, Space Weather Research Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey. It had been a while since we worked in this medium and in a strange way being in lock-down has worked well for this piece.

Bits & pieces, studio

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

I like being surrounded by the multitude of artefacts in the studio and equally in our home, ranging from sketches, photographs and collected objects and materials, to everything related to works that are in different stages of becoming, like half build works, sculpture moulds and tests, bits of wires eroded stones, etc.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

Our projects develop through different stages, from research and conceptualisation to formulating its physical manifestation to the actual making of the works. There are different types of creativity associated to every stage of the process. Often the physical making of one project is a fruitful catalyst for a new work as it allows thoughts to surface unprovoked.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

Since we started working together we have been observing and reflecting on how technological advancement is influencing our life, peoples lives. This is broad but if one starts to look closer most of our everyday actions, interactions or decisions are in one way or other governed, filtered, streamlined, aided, assisted by some form of technology.

For something that prevalent, we wanted to understand better the role technology plays in society and how we got to where we are now, a situation where unreflected, disconnected technological development endangers our very existence, be it in the form of AI, overconsumption and production of goods or infringement on natural resources.

As different and new technologies come into the world, we have created a space for ourselves that allows us to tell a different narrative on how these new technologies shape the world and our perception of it.

Irma Watched Over by Machines, 2019, 16 shades of Red, Green and Blue acrylic paint on canvas.
161.5 x 133 x 3 cm and 85 x 63.5 x 4.5 cm, photographed at Troika’s studio

Compression Loss (Venus), 2017, Jesmonite, 165 x 50 x 50 cm, photographed at Troika’s studio

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

Working as a collective across a variety of media seems to be a surprisingly challenging concept for many in the arts. It is less easy to pigeon hole, doesn’t fit in with traditional expectations of the ‘genius’, the collective might break up etc. A well meaning individual has even advised us that we would be more ‘successful’, if we would pursue individual careers. I guess this largely depends on how you define success.

The Weather Yesterday, 2012, Aluminium, acrylic, LEDs, custom electronics, 200 (w) x 500 (h) x 10 (d) cm,
Installation View, Hoxton Square, 2012

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

About 10 years ago we had way too many projects. We were constantly travelling and had lots of people working with us. It can be pretty hard to turn exciting projects down, and it can just be too easy to grow quite quickly. It was getting harder and harder to get into ‘that zone’ that you describe above. So we decided to shrink the studio as much as possible and have no one in on Fridays to ‘reset’ ourselves.

To a lot of people this didn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit in with current ideas around progress, growth and success – and yet it was the best decision we could have made.

In general, our projects tend to be quite research intensive and we keep on pushing the boundaries of our practice to collaborate with specialists from different fields. The spectrum of our collaborators over the past years has ranged from a bryologists (moss specialist) and a space weather research scientist via mechanical and software engineers of different types to manufacturers of obsolete as well as state of the art technologies. Currently we are working with a scientist studying biomineral formation and ocean chemistry as well as an Arboriculturist.

To constantly engage with different fields of knowledge as well as production and fabrication methods is super exciting, but of course it comes with some risks and each project has a huge learning curve. There are always so many potential issues, that you hadn’t thought about just yet. One of the times where we definitely reached our limit was with the ‘Newton Virus’.

In around 2004 we made this little software, called the Newton Virus, that introduces the concept of gravity into the virtual world, more specifically laptops, and causes desktop icons to become susceptible to Newton’s invisible force so they fall and roll in accordance with any physical movements applied to the computer. The first version became part of the permanent collection of the MOMA and for some reason we felt the urge to make it available to the masses, so it would become part of the ‘real world’. We worked with a couple of different programmers and finally made it for a small cost available for download. We even set up a separate company ‘Troika Artificial Life Ltd’ in case Apple would sue us for IP infringement for a play on their logo and commercials. Although far fetched this was quite an interesting process and thought experiment and somehow part of the work.

What we had not accounted for, however, was that we became inundated with technical support questions. Quite a nightmare, especially as the programmers themselves had moved on to other projects. So the artificial life of the ‘Newton Virus’ as a commercially available entity was rather short lived. Maybe we don’t need to exist in all spaces.

Newton Virus, 2005, Custom designed USB key with virus, 2.5 cm x 4 cm

What is your favourite exhibition, event, or performance you have participated in and why?

Limits of a Known Territory at NC-arte in Bogota has definitely been one of the exhibitions that was most rewarding. I think with this installation we managed to create an alternate reality that elicits a strong visceral reaction that lies beyond a rational kind of understanding. We had the chance to work with a great team at the foundation that did everything to make it happen.

Apart from that, of course always the one that we are working on at the moment. Untertage is an immersive installation that we are currently working on and that is set to open in February next year. A publication will be accompanying the exhibition that will chart a more encompassing narrative, beyond the works shown in the exhibition, based around the research and thinking that has driven our practice for the last couple of years. It will also include three essays from writers in response to the works which we are very excited about.

Limits of a Known Territory, 2015, site-specific installation, installation view at NC-Arte, Bogota

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

A slight disturbance – just enough to wonder how many different ways there are to experience this fuzzy thing called reality. It is important to me that our work has a kind of openness and generosity that leaves space for people to draw on their own experiences to complete the work. Whilst there is a a lot to discover, there is nothing to ‘get’.

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

Setting an afternoon in the studio aside for a visit works best for us. In addition to the projects we think could be interesting to discuss we often end up delving into completely different subjects prompted by the artefacts and works that are around in the studio, depending on what the visitor feels naturally drawn to.

Unedited upfront feedback is something we get the most out of there and then, but to continue the dialogue beyond a one-off studio visit and to turn it into a longer term relationship is ultimately what is most valuable to us. Our work is quite demanding so it takes time.

Borrowed Light, 2018, Installation View, Barbican, Photographic film, aluminium, motor, 12m (H) x 1m (W) x 20cm (D)

If you work with a commercial gallery /agent / producer how does this relationship affect or inform your work and life?

We work with several different galleries, but have been working the longest with Mexico based gallery OMR. It’s a relationship that has evolved and is still evolving. Despite the distance this has worked well. It doesn’t really change our work so much, it’s just that some of our works are more suited to be acquired by collectors than others. Apart from the sale of our works, they have been very supportive in facilitating larger projects and immersive installations such as Limits of a known territory and Dark Matter.

Dark Matter, 2014, Wood, aluminium, black flock, 237.5 x 237.5 x 237.5 cm
Art Basel Unlimited, Installation View, 2014, Photo: Simon Zachary Chetrit

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

The ideas and themes we are interested in come to the fore in a lot of the discussions that we might have with a closer circle of friends of artists, writers, architects and designers. Discussions specific to the works largely take place between the three of us. We have been each others sounding boards for the past 18 years and this trialogue has been quite fruitful.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

From a historical perspective Juan Downey stands out for us. He was as much of an explorer and amateur anthropologist as he was an artist, always interested in understanding and making visible the feedback loops and our hidden relationship with technology. The work and/or writing of Mark Leckey, Hito Steyerl and Pierre Huyghe has had a strong influence on our practice. Maybe not exactly in conversation with, but to name a few others Cécile B. Evans, Cao Fei, Julian Charriére, Tuur van Balen & Revital Cohen, all reflect in their work in one way or another on the impact that technological development has on our perception of self and our surroundings in interesting ways.

How do you make money to support your practice?

It’s a mix – we work with several galleries that sell our works; we work with curatorial organisations on larger site specific sculptures and installations; and we do a little bit of teaching.

What advice would you give your past self?

Don’t overthink it, just get on with it and work through it. We tend to be extremely critical of our own and each others ideas which can sometimes be stifling. A work develops further in the making process and it doesn’t need to be entirely thought out right from the beginning.

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

I have loved following film maker Mania Akbari’s ‘Conversation during coronavirus on IG live’. Some episodes are in depth conversations, in others she creates a space for someone’s meandering thoughts. I have enjoyed its unpretentious personal format that seems to be entirely unaware of an audience beyond the exchange.

Follow Troika @troika_london, visit their website