The exhibition highlights the interconnection between design and equality in the past century. It explores the ideal of equality in some of the most celebrated icons of Finnish design as well as in lesser-known projects. In this exhibition, the past and present of design approach the same questions: Who is allowed to design and on whose terms? Who do they design for? Whose work is visible, whose voice is heard?
The five themes of the exhibition are icons of equality, public spaces for every body, work, multiple voices and identity.
Check out texts of the exhibition before visiting exhibition or return to the texts after your visit.
The Themes of the Exhibition
Icons of equality
From early on, Finnish design has been strongly informed by international modernism’s strive to produce everyday objects that would be beautiful, of high quality, and accessible to everybody. The development of industrial serial production in the early 20th century made this goal possible to achieve. Certain products in Finnish design history have gained the status of classics of democratic and egalitarian design: they have been seen to improve quality of life throughout society.
These products did not achieve a reputation for equality out of nowhere. Countless exhibitions and publications, museum curators, historians and companies have contributed to its building over the decades. In this room, we explore the ground in which these classics are rooted. What kind of ideals did the designer originally have, and how were these ultimately achieved?
These products that have acquired the status of classics or icons have defined understanding of equality in the design field. They have had an enormous impact on our design culture. Being such widely used objects, they also have had the power to condition our daily lives, and in so doing perhaps even contribute to partially outdated ideals of equality. Even design icons need to be reviewed critically: how do we perceive them today?
Public spaces for every body
The concept of the Nordic welfare state is well documented as a society in which the state is actively engaged in offering equal opportunities to all of its citizens.
The goal of building and maintaining a welfare state has also been applied to the work of designers. Although Finnish design classics are largely produced for the private sphere of home, many projects in the design field also seek to meet the needs of the services and public spaces of the welfare state. Such design projects include urban spaces and furniture, public transportation, health clinics and schools, and many types of assistance tools.
Traditionally, design has been evaluated against the criteria of beauty and functionality, with only a very limited number of people allowed to determine what is beautiful and functional. But this approach is inadequate when it comes to designing public spaces. They must be functional for all users, irrespective of their individual characteristics. One of the central questions of designing a public space, therefore, is determining whose views and experiences will be taken into account in the process.
Work is a fundamental element in the life of an individual. We spend a large proportion of our waking hours at work, and the compensation we receive determines our opportunities and choices to a large degree. Work can provide a sense of importance and feelings of accomplishment and success. Work can also give the individual a sense of competence, as well as the experience of being a part of a community, traditions and society.
In the world of work, equality and social justice are reflected in the opportunities available for individuals to work at tasks they enjoy in safe conditions. The achievement of this goal is not a given, however. Work opportunities are often restricted by external factors and dependent on gender or functional capacity, and compensation received for work is not always justified.
Design can contribute to promoting equality in working life. In the production of design items, opportunities for work can open up for people whose employment prospects might not normally be very high. Design can also be used to find solutions that improve working conditions and make work safer and less strenuous.
Finnish society is composed of a number of parallel communities and cultures, not all of which are allocated the same amount of space in public discussion or in visual representations. Visibility matters, both in the sense of division of common resources and potential to wield influence in society. This refers not only to the attention and acknowledgment received, but also to a sense of inclusion and belonging.
A similar inequality applies to the past and the way in which it has been recorded: design history reveals only a limited amount of stories, told from particular perspectives. Museums and other memory organizations play an important role in selecting the stories that will be passed on to the generations to come. Whose stories will be included in the history of Finnish culture? Whose voices will be heard, and what kind of stories will be left untold?
Identity refers to the idea a human being holds of themself. Who am I in relation to others and the world around me? Design offers tools for the construction and expression of an individual’s personal identity. Items, such as clothes and jewellery, reflect not only personal history and individual taste, but also a sense of belonging to a group or community.
Sometimes objects, or lack of them, can become obstacles to self-expression. In the world of design, it is not a given that people and identities of all kinds are acknowledged equally. Often, designs are made for an imaginary ideal or an “average” person that barely exists in real life. When designers try to create something that works for everyone, many needs are overlooked. The diversity of human nature becomes visible when individuals are included in the design process.
Picture: Kobra Agency, photos Paavo Lehtonen. Objects from the left: Howard Smith sculpture 1982, Outi Leinonen Leena ceramic sculpture 1982 and carpet beater Annansilmät-Aitta.