Making it in Plastic Era Sweden With HI-Gruppen At ArkDes

It was the 1960’s. Seemingly everything was developing rapidly, the space age was upon us and things were looking up. Efficiency was all the rage and encompassed any type of manufacturing, from canned foods to pre-made TV-dinners, via practical synthetic clothing and furniture. The latter trend manifested itself in IKEA, a company whose philosophy needs no further introduction and one that has conquered the world ever since. Leaving independent furniture makers and designers in the dust.

During the same time period, a small group of designers – Åke Axelsson, Hans Johansson and John Kandell – formed HI-gruppen, a craftsmen collective going against mass produced plastic and fibreboard furniture in an attempt to outdo the Danes, reigning masters of the art of finely crafted furniture. HI-gruppen was also a sort of a think tank for ways of creating prototypes of genuine furniture craftsmanship intended for industrial scale production, in a bid to stand up to cheap and mundane furniture making. At its pinnacle, the HI-group consisted of no fewer than 16 members and now ArkDes opens an exhibition that showcases the group’s masterpieces.

To further commemorate the HI-gruppen’s existence and its works, Johan Örn, curator at ArkDes in Stockholm, releases a new book called HI-gruppen och hantverkets återkomst (The HI-group and the return of craftsmanship). Researching and writing the book has laid the foundation for the exhibition named HI-gruppen – hantverk i plaståldern (HI-gruppen – craftsmanship in the age of plastic), that takes place at  ArkDes, starting on September 13 and running through to November 19. The exhibition displays a number of unique furniture prototypes conceived by HI-gruppen, as well as photographs from the group’s archives.

HI-Gruppen, ArkDes until Nov 19

Words: Micha van Dinther & Magnus Wittbjer