In the lead-up to each issue of Frame, we challenge emerging designers to respond to the Frame Lab theme with a forward-looking concept. For Frame 133 we raised the question: Museums are beginning to make their mark far beyond the bounds of their buildings, but what experiences are still to come? It's been made even more pertinent by the current pandemic.

Artist Aram Lee focuses on reinterpreting and repurposing matter found within institutions. Through the likes of performative events and film installations, she attempts to reshape the complex trajectories of objects and images by shifting the structures of power.

An idea she explored through Inside Out (2017, cover image) together with Anaïs Borie and Ottonie von Roeder, Lee envisions emancipating a museum’s collection from its architecture.

You believe the museum as we know it will cease to exist . . .

ARAM LEE: I see the future museum not as one massive solid building, but as something that exists minimally and liminally. Imagine if collections were showcased in fragments on mobile trolleys. This decentralized approach would allow the museum to disperse throughout the city.

How would this work in practice?

Objects and archives would walk around the city. Well, actually they’d be pushed around on bespoke trolleys by the public. The trolleys and people would not only physically carry the collection, but also the stories and knowledge contained within the objects – and within the museum itself.

I see the future museum not as one massive solid building, but as something that exists minimally and liminally

This concept allows a collection to exchange its static nature for something more socially, politically and culturally engaged; unpredictability makes it possible for this reactivation to take place. In this sense, the concept of the visitor is completely transformed as they become learners, participants and unintended (sometimes unwilling) actors that co-interpret its historical reminiscences.

‘Bespoke trolleys’, you say. What would inform their design?

Each trolley will reference aspects of the object it carries: its shape, material, colour, stories. It’s an idea I’ve explored already with Inside Out, a projected I initiated in 2017 together with Anaïs Borie and Ottonie von Roeder. We designed a trolley for specific objects from the Zuiderzeemuseum in the Netherlands, customizing its structure so it could travel around the country. One such object was a pipe made of porcelain from the Zuiderzee region, which we took on a journey to places that related to it. This performative act – a museum on wheels – meant the object could permeate the city. It was about emancipating the archive while developing a novel and proto-architectural format that unpicks the solidity of an institution. So the trolley becomes an alternative to the usual museum description; it represents the object’s story without relying on a single narration.

What sparked the idea?

When you dissect museums, you find a similar pattern regardless of their location. The museum collects objects, bringing them together in a single spot to form a collection. The collections of many design and applied arts museums comprise thousands of things amassed from a myriad of different timelines. My analysis was that when something enters the museum we can say that it’s ‘dead’ in that its life as a functioning object is over. Yet museums are immortal places – within their depots are millions of items, hidden and frozen in time. By bringing its objects out from these dark depots, the museum will exist transparently and encourage dialogue, revealing new stories and – potentially – new knowledge.

The institution’s rigid form should give way to a more fluid treatment of the objects it contains.

Museums and archives also help to protect precious objects. How does your design deal with safety and security?

The trolleys are of course designed to protect whatever is placed inside of them. But the idea is to break the architecture of the museum and the timeline of the object. The institution’s rigid form should give way to a more fluid treatment of the objects it contains. This precariousness of an object’s handling and movement are what allow for these new layers of historical meaning to develop. These destabilized conditions resituate the precious object so its immediate environment is safe but its meaning is not. The precarious state of the thing is what challenges the act of archiving in the first place.