Swedish designers brush off dead wood image

In a new exhibition at the Artipelag art centre, Swedish wood design is given a shiny new makeover. The Local went along to the opening to find out why Scandinavian timber is more than just Ikea, a Dalecarlian horse, and saunas.

Swedish designers brush off dead wood image

This is Scandinavia; a place where wood is king. And we all know about Swedes and wood design right?

Pine, pine, Ikea, pine. Or maybe not.

Ett Två Trä (“One Two Tree”), a new exhibition curated by editor-in-chief of design magazine Bruno and television producer Staffan Bengtsson, focuses on contemporary Swedish wood design that is less seventies sauna, more flora and fauna.

That is, using wood to create “a vision of the forest” – natural, captivating and a little less claustrophobic.

Artipelag, the beautiful new art and culture space in southern Stockholm that opened only last year, is but a short bus ride away from Centralen station, shuttling visitors to the serenity of the capital’s inner archipelago.

We caught up with the curator and asked him about what’s it all about, what’s new in wood, and about that big, flat-pack elephant in the room, aka Ikea.

The Local: Sum up the exhibition. What is it about? What can people expect?

Staffan Bengtsson: People can expect to see new contemporary design in wood and also a reflection of the history of wood design. Sweden and other Nordic countries have a design tradition in wood. There’s [architect and designer] Alvar Aalto from Finland; Carl Malmsten [Swedish furniture designer]…

Also wood is a cheap material to work with so it’s good for young designers.

The Local: Earlier, during the tour of the exhibition, you mentioned the seventies were all about pine…

SB: Yes, there was a lot of pine in the seventies; you couldn’t avoid it. There was a lot of pine painted in strong colours but it was burnt up; it was thrown into the fireplace.

The Local: Things have obviously moved on since then. Is it now about different types of wood or is it about what you do with it?

SB: It’s more about what you do with it; the shape, creating a picture in wood design, giving it a twist, finding something else. That’s the point of development, I suppose, finding something else in traditional shapes and even sometimes creating something funny, to get a laugh.

In the thirties, it was what was called ‘international design’. It was just function, now there’s a vision and it’s something close to art.

IN PICTURES: At the exhibition: Top ten Swedish things made of wood

The Local: I have to ask about Ikea… What do you think about the Swedish furniture giant?

SB: I actually did a big Ikea exhibition four years ago in Stockholm. Ikea makes it possible to furnish homes with quite good stuff. Getting things together, using tools, it makes people happy.

But in the long run, it’s impossible to produce such cheap furniture. It shouldn’t be possible because there’s always a loss made somewhere, someone always pays the price. It’s a very complex question.

Without Ikea, design would not be an attractive field. Some designers have a goal to have one or two of their designs in Ikea.

The Local: So why wood? What is it about wood that makes it worth working with?

SB: It’s the perfect material. The distance between design and wood is so short. If you work with plastic there is industry in between.

The Local: What about Sweden’s connection with nature and wood design?

SB: We like to walk in the woods, we like to camp, to fish, and pick mushrooms and berries. We like to work with wood, working with knives, DIY.

In fact, nine of ten Swedish poets write about the woods.

We are crazy about wood.

Ett Två Trä (“One Two Tree”) is open to the public until August 21st

Victoria Hussey


Victoria on Twitter here

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