Elevating the Video Arcade with Top-shelf Game Consoles
Love Hultén had planned on being an illustrator. Then he started in HDK-Valand’s graduate programme in design. There he discovered a new material and found a style of his own. Today he creates unique game consoles out of wood for a clientèle that includes Kanye West, has 80,000 followers on Instagram, and receives orders from all over the world.
Over the door to one of the Konstepidemin Art Centre’s many studio spaces in Gothenburg hangs an informative little sign from a bygone era. Mechanical Room. That’s what it says. The sign has probably been hanging there since the complex was an epidemic hospital, but actually it still gives some indication of what we’ll find behind the door.
While still a student in HDK-Valand’s graduate programme in design, Hultén created his first game console in a retro-inspired wood design. His unique fusion of applied arts and modern technology spread rapidly on social media and has now become a signature for him.
“Here is my wood shop, and over there is my electronics corner,” says Hultén, gesturing across the studio.
The space is divided in the middle by a half-wall, creating a spatial image that captures the dual components of his work – equal parts wood and electronics.
The game console OriginX lies on a desk surrounded by circuit boards, wires, and soldering irons. This was where it all started. A wooden case with rounded forms frames a mustard yellow front with shiny black buttons. The retro-futuristic design is Hultén’s homage to the video arcade and an attempt to elevate gaming culture to the top shelf.
“I wanted to create a counter-reaction to today’s touch-screen-based throwaway products,” he says.
Since graduating from HDK-Valand in 2014, Hultén has spent a lot of time in his studio at Konstepidemin. He has come out with a series of different products that have made a particularly big impact with American customers. High-profile buyers like Kanye West have helped to continually grow the number of orders.
But this wasn’t at all the way Hultén had envisioned his working life. He had been drawing since he was little and had gone to art school at Göteborgs Konstskola, where he focused on graphics, and was supposed to become an illustrator. That was the plan.
“But at HDK-Valand I got an opportunity to test a variety of different materials and working methods,” he says. “There was an open way of working, and introductory courses, and we didn’t have to choose a concentration until the second year. That gave me a fantastic opportunity to explore and find new forms of expression.”
During one course that challenged students to create just this kind of fusion between modern technology and the art of woodworking, he took the first step toward an entirely new direction for his career. Hultén, whose father is a woodworker, had always wanted to go his own way – until the day he found himself in the wood shop at HDK-Valand.
“There was something about the smell of sawdust that was very familiar,” he recalls. “I’ve always liked building things, and I discovered how much potential there is in wood as a material. It makes it easy to quickly build up a vision and give it form.”
With his own graphic, two-dimensional idiom as a foundation and this new-found material with its three-dimensional qualities, Hultén was able to achieve more of the kind of spatial atmosphere he has often tried to capture in his work.
“I’ve always wanted to create an alternative world that I’d want to live in myself. I think in the beginning it was inspired by space and science fiction. I love the space stations you see constructed in the movies, for example, and their interiors. They’re based on our shared points of reference – eating, sleeping, socialising – that have been put into a new context. That combination of a high degree of recognisability and this new rather strange world creates a mood that my own style is designed to generate.”
It is no coincidence that Hultén found his expression in a wood shop. At HDK-Valand, he spent a lot of time in the school’s various workshops. His main advice to future students is to do just that.
“Make the most of every opportunity you get to explore materials and techniques,” he says. “Access to those workshops made a big impact on who I am today.”
For Hultén, independent exploration is a major driving force. He’s happy to be a self-starter and prefers to do every part of the work himself. Thus, he’s also self-taught when it comes to the electronics expertise needed to build game consoles.
“For me, it’s important that it’s not just a design; you have to be able to play on them too,” he says.
He believes that this combination of form and function is one of the reasons his products have become so popular.
Ninety per cent of his customers are Americans. Most are men, and many of them have reached out to thank him for a game console their wives think is not ugly and don’t mind having in the home.
“I don’t really know how I should take that,” says Hultén with a smile. “But of course it’s nice to be able to do something for their relationship.”
He has played a lot of games himself over the years, but recently his work has been inspired by a different interest. In the very back of the studio, a keyboard with Hultén’s signature style is taking form.
“Since I’m a musician, I want to trying making sound machines too,” he says.
After ten years of intensive work with game consoles, he is longing to experiment more and to explore, just as he was doing when he made OriginX.
“I have the chance to do it now,” he says, “and I’ve decided to take six months to work a little more artistically and conceptually.”
But first he needs to finish six orders that will soon be leaving the Machine Room at Konstepidemin.
By Åsa Rehnström