Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Archive Competition
1st prize (shared)


The Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation organized an international ideas competition, titled Sharing, in 2016 to establish a permanent presence for the collection. The competition aimed at challenging the existing paradigm for museums and archives by exploring how an archive could become a place for sharing, exploring and cultivating a discourse on design.

Trails imagines the TWRB archive as a vast yet elusive landscape of interconnected items, where curatorial paths await discovery. The potential of the collection emerges from the interaction between the archive and subjects looking for meanings within its content.

Instead of trying to organize a consensus of opinion on the legacy of Tapio Wirkkala and Rut Bryk, the proposal for the Wirkkala Bryk archive strives to do the opposite. Trails challenges the problem-solving paradigm of design by offering no singular solution to a ‘problem’ but rather celebrating its complexity, and the polyphony of possible interpretations.

Archives have historically served as the collective memory of societies, executing ideological choices of what was considered worth remembering. This operation of a selective memory has been expressed by storing, organizing and exhibiting historical objects, through which archival institutions have educated the public on the past as a linear narrative. This memory function of archives lingers to this day, but as knowledge expands in an increasingly heterogeneous democratic society, there can no longer be a single universal understanding of the past, nor the future. Instead of proposing simplified answers, the contemporary archive is liberated to become a place of inquiry and exchange of ideas.

Instead of neutrally welcoming observers, the proposal challenges visitors to become active participant-authors in the making of the exhibition. The Archive questions the meaning of its own content by laying out the material in unorganized form for the consumption of the public. To confront the vast Landscape of the exhibition, the proposal introduces the Compass: an architecture of inquiry into the archive. It is this continuous inquiry that validates the archive as a living institution of memory.

Similarly, design objects are validated by being distinguished as such, again and again, continuously renegotiated amidst the volume of goods on display all around us. Trails is concerned with providing a framework and tools to provoke discovery of how art and design gain their meaning, asking why and how a given object or narrative comes to dominate the design discourse.

Trails seeks connectivity between individual objects and participants; between ideas and bodies. Design objects can be thought of as the materiality of ideas in an increasingly digital world, where impressions rush by, leaving minds unaffected. An object embodies a persistent idea in form and matter, proposing an invitation to live in a shared world.

As human communication has less and less to do with actual confrontation in physical space, the establishment of a physical archive in time and space can provide a rare social platform to set stage for meaningful interaction and debate. Trails presents the archive as a process of inquiry, a continuous exploration framed by a gallery of materialized ideas.

In collaboration with Johanna Brummer.

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a mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something.

Exhibiting through Light

Any inquiry into the contents of the Archive will light up the objects on display that share the requested quality as metadata, tangibly linking the physical, metaphysical and digital dimensions of the total archive. At any given moment, the lighting condition recalls a set of traces of actions, both forming and collapsing multiple and ephemeral narrative trails.

The Landscape

The exhibition in EMMA is conceived as a landscape of design objects captured in space and time, occupying the outer perimeter of the room. The form of the archive exhibits approximately 1000 objects as a snapshot of the whole body of work, without categorization or grouping.

Selected items from the Archive are placed on display in other institutions and urban spaces as urban satellites. Connected by video screens, the satellites link the exhibition with the outside world.

The Compass

The Compass Screens are data browsers connecting to and linking together all 5000 objects from the collection, present or not present in the exhibition space. The screens help navigate the content, and can be found at all cardinal directions of the exhibition. Extensive metadata of all the objects allow for an infinite number of “exhibitions” to emerge. Participants can also suggest new metadata to bring their interpretations as part of the archive.

In addition to browsing the digital archive, visitors can print out a postcard with an image of their choice from the digital archive. A customized handwritten postcard is a simple gesture to share the exhibition experience.

At the pivot of the room is a social space, the Forum. The massive wooden tables and lightweight movable seats accommodate practically any type of an event, as debate and discussion as exchange of ideas are at the heart of the exhibition concept.

The Workshops

The Design Workshops are points of reflective activity where participants can materialize their ideas into personal interpretations inspired by the archive. The workshops provide participants with some of the basic tools used by designers and artists, facilitating meaning-making processes.

The Meta Exhibition gathers visitor participation into data visualizations, while the Workshop Exhibition is dedicated to the display of physical items produced in the workshops, allowing for visitors to contribute to the Wirkkala Bryk archive. The gesture aims at raising a discussion of what an object on display means in an exhibition context.

Heini-Emilia Saari

Tel. +358 40 533 9454
heini.saari (a) gmail.com