Profiles | Helene Wagner

Deputy Head of Special Exhibitions, Vienna Technical Museum

“Our goal isn’t to say to our visitors, ‘OK, here’s the future, take it or leave it.’ We want to offer them the chance to gain some insight and to be able to reflect on it themselves.”

On a rainy summer day, the Vienna Technical Museum was buzzing with inquisitive children and watchful parents. No surprise, as about half of the museum’s visitors are youngsters.

Amid massive historical machines – a steam locomotive, a World War I biplane, a hydroelectric power plant turbine – stands a modern, makeshift, three-story steel structure that has been specially designed for the museum’s future oriented, six yearlong special exhibition series, “Urban Future – thinking forward” (“weiter gedacht”), dedicated to the themes of research, innovation and technological development. It’s constructed as a floating building within a building, with its own external staircase and an elevator, so visitors can view all three floors.

As co-curatorial manager of the next installment, “Work and Production,” opening in November, Helene Wagner was eager to show us how the flexible structure can be adapted to accommodate different types of exhibits. The perforated metal plates used as cladding for the previous exhibition are being switched out for Plexiglas for the upcoming one.

Wagner, 36, was equally excited about the exhibition’s accompanying interactive lab located in another wing of the museum, where visitors will be able to play with state-of-the-art technology – 3D printers, laser cutters or even develop a product with the help of a virtual robot.

For Wagner, who studied ancient history, every exhibition – whether looking back or forward – is a tale of human experience.

“What I love about working here is, I can tell stories with cool objects!” she said, with infectious enthusiasm.

One of the promises of ever improving digitalized, networked production systems is the ‘lot size one,’ a product that is completely customized, but can be made and sold for a price comparable to a massproduced one.

“Every car built to your own specifications in terms of colors and features is a ‘lot size one’,” she said.

Although visitors won’t come away with a car, they will usually receive an email with a virtual model of their individually designed product. And they will certainly leave with new visions and questions about the future of production.

Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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