Swedish for argument

Sydney 23 October – 23 November 2012

Curator: Holly Williams
UTS Gallery, Sydney

Synonymous with Sweden, IKEA showcases over 8,000 products used in urban households across the globe. IKEA takes its name from the initials of a Swede and his hometown: Ingvar Kamprad, who founded the company in 1943 by delivering small things of household use to the people of Elmtaryd Agunnaryd in Småland. Serving people from all classes, IKEA is the second biggest company in retail in the world for selling furniture in flat-packs and household products. The products vary from the smallest things like the Bastis lint roller to big furniture like Pax wardrobe, Besta storage, Kitchen cabinets and Billy bookcases. Its case studies are included in Masters Courses of Accounting, Retail, Sales and Marketing. IKEA is especially successful in creating well-designed flat-pack products that are being used in our homes, offices, schools, cafés, etc.

Recently, IKEA featured as a binding thread in artworks that were shown in a group show at the UTS Gallery in Sydney. Curated by Holy Williams, the show Swedish for Argument borrows its title from a joke that the American comedian, Amy Poehler once used to refer to IKEA. The exhibition shows the diversity in artists and their works, but one thing is common which is IKEA culture and values which a viewer can see in their artworks. The eight artists from diverse backgrounds used the similar experience of shopping at IKEA, incorporating its products to form various art forms including installations.

Out of the eight exhibiting artists, four showed video pieces: Helmut Smits's Flamma (A Basic Need); Guy Ben-Ner’s Stealing Beauty; Tony Schwensen’s TransScandanavia and Like A Salmon by Jess Olivieri with The Parachutes For Ladies. Building upon the notion of family love, Guy Ben-Ner used his family as characters in Stealing Beauty. Filmed without permission in various IKEA stores across Europe, the duration of Stealing Beauty is 17:40 and it explores the meaning of economic exchange, private property and family love. The environment constructed with loving family conversations in and around the products in this video echoes the very family values that IKEA has been promoting since 1943. Helmut Smith’s video Flamma (A Basic Need) was rooted in the act of making a fire. Breaking the norms by not following delegated instructions, Tony Schwensen’s video builds a Pax Wardrobe without using the instruction manual whereas Jess Olivieri’s video recontextualises the entrance and exit points of the store like swimming against the waves in the open sea.

One of the most banal objects in the IKEA showrooms is a tool which comes with almost every flat-pack product - the Allen key and its significance in design remains exclusive to IKEA stores. Emma White uses a simple and minimal approach by creating a stand-in for the Allen key from polymer clay on the same scale in the work Nice Try, DIY. This work shows exactly how much importance a seemingly insignificant tool can have. Like an example of a pen and ink, when the pen has no use without the ink – the same applies to the Allen key because you are unable to build the most of the furniture available at IKEA without it.

Gary Carsley’s D.98b (UTS dub), Lorenzo Bravi’s Ikea Press and Michele Pred’s You Are What You Buy are compelling works in mixed media and prints – depicting the generic experiences of common livelihood. The installation of Gary Carsley interprets consumer culture while the apt use of materials by Michele Pred and Lorenzo Bravi lends a distinct flavor to the exhibition. Michele created her own archival pigment prints with barcode patterns in them while Lorenzo used traditional techniques with advanced elements and IKEA products in his letterpress prints.

The creative use of IKEA products in this exhibition successfully introduces the viewer to the infinite possibilities of using these products not only for their need or use but also for the endless potential they can explore with them.

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