Through the Ikean Looking-Glass: Malmö

If you’re reading this and you’re over thirty, bets are on that at some point in your life to date, you’ve found yourself pushing a flat trolley laden with packaged Billys, a Grevbäck or two, or a Bestå height extension. You may be prepared to admit this, and even to acknowledge succumbing to Swedish meatballs in the Ikea café; but if you’re living a fully aspirational lifestyle, an original Eames lounge or reclaimed-pine bespoke dining table is possibly more your style.

There’s something sensuous in the slip of an instore specials catalogue from between the pages of The Sunday Age, certainly – especially if things are frosty between you and your better half. Weekend after weekend across this real-estate-obsessed nation, couples in various stages of relationship bliss or breakdown transfer their desires and disappointments, for better or worse, to the glossy pages of this or that ‘lifestyle guide’.

Ross Ganf, creator/director of new performance company Torque Show’s Malmö, describes the lifestyle obsession as “aspirational suicide”. In making the work, he and Malmö co-creators Vincent Crowley and Ingrid Weisfelt decided to explore what’s become a rite of passage for thirty-and-forty-somethings – an obsession with real estate and renovation that he says is relatively uncommon in other countries.

In Malmö, Crowley and Weisfelt’s characters invite the audience into their new home. Renovations are in progress, but things are not going well. With subtle humour, the pair persist with their illusions – re-making, re-modelling and re-visioning. The combination of Weisfelt’s psychologically acute performance style and Crowley’s subtle brand of “straight clowning” promises a slightly warped reality with a topcoat of black comedy. A married couple in real life, Crowley and Weisfelt have worked together over some 20 years – a factor that drove Ganf’s interest in forming a company with them.

Torque Show, says Ganf, sprang from the trio’s desire to define their own style and their own process of creating work. For Ganf, Torque Show feeds a desire to move from text-based theatre to more movement-based work; while for Crowley and Weisfelt, he says, creating their own work is the logical ‘next step’ in their long careers.

“Vince and Ingrid carry with them a huge wealth of personal experience as well as dance and professional experience,” says Ganf. “I really see that as a kind of performance energy that you can’t really buy, or cast for.” Torque Show have two other works in development: a re-ignition of the idea of protest as political expression, Riot; and – a verbatim portrait of Adelaide veteran adult entertainment choreographer, Joseph Farrugia. Reflecting on the ideas behind Malmö, Ganf wonders whether people are “starting to live their lives for a lifestyle rather than actually living the life with the people in that lifestyle”.

“We define ourselves through the selection of a lamp or the selection of a tap that we like,” he says. “Making these environments and houses is almost one of the defining gestures of our lives; a huge artistic statement about who we are.”

“Are we chasing something that’s not necessarily going to give us happiness? And should we have been concentrating more on the people and the family around us?”

The ‘perfect house’ would seem to require a ‘perfect relationship’ to go with it: a huge pressure for the happy couple. But Ganf suggests the perfect relationship might not even be on the radar for Malmö’s characters.

“They’re running so autonomously against each other to define themselves within a space, that they’re maybe not even connecting…the core relationship’s not even connecting.”

“It doesn’t even understand itself, because it’s so aspirational for things outside of itself. They’re simply not looking within and not listening to the person next to them, you know?”

Ganf talks about a “mid-life rite of passage that we, possibly unnecessarily, put ourselves through”.

“We start speaking Ikean to each other and we try to identify ourselves as individual, but we’re really just copying things from magazines…trying to define ourselves through architectural movements.”

“It’s a kind of re-envisioning that we constantly go on through, and at the end of the day it’s like the emperor’s new clothes – what are we really selling at that point, who or what are we trying to say about ourselves? Are we actually trying to sell something when we’re just quite clearly naked…?”

Australians may be the world’s most obsessed home-owners – but we’re also pretty good at seeing the irony and humour of our obsessions and our failings. In what Torque Show’s preview material intriguingly describes as a kind of Dogville meets The Block, Malmö is bound to privilege humour and humanity; and Ganf promises moments of magic and surprise within the scenario of a couple poised between incomplete rennos and impaired relationship.

“It’s quite funny a lot of the time – not only are they trying to sell you their relationship but they’re trying to sell you a house that isn’t complete either. I’d love it if someone who comes to see the work kind of recognises a bit of themselves, their own relationship and their own renovation… We like that it’s a touchstone that most people will have an experience of – yeah.”

Malmö
Torque Show
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Wednesday 13 to Sunday 17 April

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About Arts House

Arts House presents contemporary arts in programs encompassing performance, exhibitions, live art, residencies and other activities that nurture, support and stimulate cultural engagement. For more information, please visit artshouse.com.au.
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