If you want to put in an order for creativity, you can contract Konstab. The culture group (name taken from Konst-AB, which translates to Art Company) consists of Gothenburg’s Anton Hellström, Ossian Melin and Filip Aladdin, a gang of childhood friends who have dabbled in everything from music videos to Instagram entertainment. In 2017 they put on the performance Total Trygghet at Teater Brunnsgatan Fyra, a high-energy theatre show that became one of the year’s successes. Now they’re back with part two of what will eventually become a trilogy of shows. Total Fräschhet, a manic humour and theatre performance, fuelled by whatever is buzzing in the trio’s heads at the time of writing, is playing until the end of February, and will met them to talk about it.
You all met in school right? So how did you end up starting Konstab?
Ossian: Me and Anton are childhood friends, and the three of us met in high school. We started working with film, video productions, music videos and then on to experimental art video. Anton and I did some performance art in Gothenburg. We all do different projects. We [our friend group] are all ten close childhood friends, and we had and have now a lot of different art projects. Some are comedy, some are more pretentious and traditional art. Then we started to try theatre, stage art, and for the last two years the three of us have been working together. We feel that we have a certain way of working together, and that all the different names for other projects we had in the past, for example when me and Anton and another friend had a project called Olika Personer [Instagram-based characters], that that didn’t fit with what we were doing.
Filip: And we’re not the same people [as that group].
Ossian: Yeah, also not the same people! We felt that the three of use needed a name or label. Since we’re working with so many things, the next project could be music or painting, we felt that we needed something that encompasses all art forms.
And that’s why Konstab is a good name.
Anton: That’s the producer of everything.
Ossian: We think of them as being different people to us, that run Konstab. We imagine them as small business owners in Sweden, who aren’t necessarily interested in art, who hire us as employees for different projects. It’s a good way of thinking, because then we as artists, as private people, can do whatever, because we have this company above us.
Filip: With different names on it.
And that reflects in the whole aesthetic you’ve adopted with it. The slogan ”Helhetslösningar inom kultursektorn” (complete solutions within the culture sector) and the formal, corporate design.
Ossian: Exactly. We’ve been travelling a lot and we love industrial areas of the city. Outside of Gothenburg there are a lot of places with one really depressing hotel, and then a corporate building with lots of small businesses. If they work with tyres they’re called Tyre AB, if they’re working with something else they’re called that-AB.
Filip: If they’re welders they’re called Weld-AB.
Ossian: We really like that aesthetic. We feel that it’s looked upon as so tasteless, but we think it’s clear, clean, interesting to put in an art context. We have this ongoing project, mixing that aesthetic with fine arts. But for us, this play is just sponsored by Konstab. The next step is to have a traditional gallery, or like a hip cool gallery, and put these corporate banners all over.
You’ve talked about how theatre is just one of the many things you’ve worked in, and mentioned in an early interview that you’re not really theatre people: you don’t have a bunch of friends in theatre school and you only go yourselves maybe once a year. So do you think that makes it easier for you to create something boundary and genre pushing, because you haven’t an internalised theatre mindset in your head?
Ossian: I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been reading a book about a Swedish actor [Tommy Berggren], and it reminds me that we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know how to approach acting. It’s easy to be cocky and say ‘That’s why it’s so good’, but I think that’s a bit naïve. In some ways, it makes it easier for us to be ground-breaking in that context. So if you’re a traditional theatre person coming to our show, you will see a difference to theatre. But if you’re coming from an art perspective, it will look as if we’re trying to make theatre. I wouldn’t say it’s in every sense better to have that approach, but I do think there are interesting elements to it.
Filip: I have limited experience with theatre. I think it gives us freedom, because we don’t know all the rules.
Ossian: It has so much to do with respect. If some young people start a band, no one says ‘what do you know about music?’. Everyone listens to music. If you’re interpret theatre as ‘acting’ or ‘situations in rooms’, then everyone has been in theatre. If you’ve had a weird feeling at a birthday party at the age of fourteen, that’s theatre. When you think of it that way, everyone has had a lot of experience in theatre. Even though I might not know how to make quick changes backstage, the practical stuff.
Filip: Maybe it would be better if we knew everything, because we’d know what rules to break. I don’t know what’s the best approach. Maybe this approach is best for us.
Ok, this is Total Fräschhet, second part of the trilogy, topics include, male role models, father-son relationships and [seventies TV Show] Tårtan. So why did those stand out as subjects you wanted to go into in this piece?
Ossian: For us, it’s really not like we’re making a conscious choice to go into certain things. We work kind of backwards, the working process can start with a song we want to use, or a pointless sentence. Like you [Anton], you wanted someone to stand up and say ‘Can’t you see, I’m sitting here resting?’. So that becomes a scene. We have a collective consciousness because we are so close to each other. We’re best friends and we’re in this after-living-with-family, before living-with-wife-and-children phase of our lives. We just start writing and we write all the way up to the premiere and then even after the premiere. We don’t limit ourselves to being so strict with a theme, it just becomes something. When you do a press release, you have to pick out a few things it’s ‘about’.
Filip: When we were writing the scenes, you [Ossian] were reading Tommy Berggren’s biography. We built the [stage piece] hotel before we even decided to have a scene with it.
Anton: We wanted a hotel.
Filip: We wanted a hotel just because we liked the image of the French hotel, so we built a scene around that.
So it is really “Total Fräschhet”, it’s stuff that’s very much present in what you’re thinking, doing and reading at the time?
Filip: If we were going to do this half a year from now, it would be totally different probably.
Ossian: I was dating someone who worked with film, and she talked about what an artist wants to say, wants to tell a story. And I don’t understand that. If you want to tell a story don’t work with art, be a journalist or something where you have the opportunity to say something. For us, art is much more about chance, it just happens. You can’t decide beforehand what you will be interested in. It’s much more fluid.
Your shows are constantly described as very reference-heavy, and packed with ideas. So are you all restless creatively? Do you feel yourselves wanting to play with and pursue as many ideas as possible?
Ossian: And you get tired of things. The scenes we wrote first, we’re tired of.
Filip: They’re probably gone.
Ossian. There’s definitely a next-topia thing. Onto the next idea. We have a friend who’s a rock musician, in a quite famous band, and he said at one point ‘why should I be playing this song I wrote three years ago?’. I also get that feeling.
Filip: Your interests change and your personality evolves. I think it’s natural to let that go. One year you’re interested in that and the next something else.
Would you say it’s fast-thinking and fast-moving theatre?
Ossian: Some of the scenes we talk about as automatic rifles aimed at the audience, and others as freight trains. They shouldn’t even be able to pick up what’s happening, it should be too fast for them. We also think we have to be one step ahead of the audience. It should take a few hours after the show for them to think about what happened.
Anton: I think that’s good, because we haven’t heard the same thing back from anyone about what they think and felt about the show. Everyone had different thoughts about it. And that’s interesting. What people decide to pick up.
Ossian: Some guy said it was about a father passing away during childhood. And when he said that we had never thought of it before, but it made sense. During the last play we did, some people came here, had a beer, and went home laughing. And some people stayed afterwards, were sad, wanted to talk. It’s almost like it’s two layers that happen at the same time.
Anton: We think it’s quite fun to say that the play is about role models, and then you can play with that expectation and do other stuff. But it gives it context.
Ossian: If you say it’s a political show, people will read that into it [no matter if it’s political or not]. Audiences always want to understand. In the last show, there was nothing to ‘understand’. But audiences are so trained with theatre, that they just understand something.
So even if there isn’t a big meaning from your point of view, people are so used to that idea that they will pull one out, whether it’s a father dying during childhood or whatever?
Finally, so with Total Trygghet and this play, you said the main thing you wanted your audiences to take away was the inspiration to do something creative themselves. So what do you think it is about these shows, or that you hope about these shows, that can inspire people to feel that way?
Ossian: They’re respect-less. We’re so naïve and stupid and full of flaws. Our acting is really bad, though it works in a certain way. It’s so flawed. I hope it feels like ‘Ok, I’m sitting here, I could do it just as well’. We’re not so bound by rules and I think we’re clearly not educated [in theatre].
Anton: You just have rely that what you do in the play is doable. You need to believe in what you do. It makes something special about a scene when it feels like we decided to make that scene happen. Even if we can’t play it as well as say a great actor. But anyway we decide to do it.
Ossian: You [Anton] were talking about this. To choose to elevate something that isn’t really anything. To have the confidence to take something that isn’t, say ‘obviously good’, and then to stand by it, I like it.