Kulkijat (eng. Wanderers) - Topi Ruotsalainen
The Student Union of the University of Turku aka TYY was founded in 1923 and celebrates its 100th birthday this year.
To celebrate, TYY ordered a mural to decorate the wall of the Student Union building at the center of the University campus. The 15-meter mural was made by the artist Topi Ruotsalainen. The piece was painted at the beginning of July 2023.
The mural was created in collaboration with TYY. “The Student Union hoped that the piece would be related to student-life or to the history of the Union. I got access to a large quantity of archival photographs about the history of the Union. One of the recurring themes in the photos were all kinds of marches and parades from May 1st marches to torch parades and political demonstrations”, Ruotsalainen says.
“I began to think about a topic and a theme that would bring together all the people who have walked through the doors of the University to one big collection of wanderers. The thought was to depict the flow of students throughout the University and the Student Union.”
In a newspaper article about the mural published in Helsingin Sanomat, the general secretary of the Union Riina Lumme describes:
“The May 1st celebrations as well as the Independence day torch parade have long traditions in Turku. Protests are also depicted in the piece which connects this moment to the 1970s, when there was real fighting and protest to maintain the democracy of the University. The tradition of students wearing overalls is also depicted in the mural. The tradition arrived in Turku in the 1980s.”
Current political events also influence the design of the mural. Ruotsalainen describes: “I aim to create work that stands for something. It can be difficult to focus on the given theme or topic when there are big events happening elsewhere in the world. When I began designing this piece, I actually started out with a completely different kind of idea. The first sketches were heavily coloured by what is happening in Ukraine. I had an idea of depicting civilisation and education as the best tools to combat possible threats. There was this kind of Väinö Linna inspired “Unknown Student” -spirit where the graduation caps are compared to military caps. However, I am happy with the turns the design process took to bring the artwork closer to the contemporary university world. When I found the final theme for the mural, designing it was pretty easy, although I was a bit terrified of all the details and abundance in the composition and of the workload.”
Even though the piece depicts the history of the hundred year old Student Union, the artist also thinks about the changing surroundings of the mural: “The mural keeps on changing and living even after its completion, becoming a part of the history in that way as well. From upcoming students’ perspective, the painting has always been there, as well as for all the little kids who spend their childhood and grow up in the neighborhood.”
“Of course the building might stay here for a long time, but murals are not forever. I quite like that murals have a kind of life cycle so they are quite strongly tied to time. I think that there is a good mix of references and possibility for identification in the characters depicted and in the brush strokes so that the topic of the mural won’t expire. Of course there isn’t really a danger of expiration when painting historical moments.”
“Some things remain as they are longer than others. Some things can be immediately connected to a particular time period. It is interesting to see which aspects will change in the piece or in the city landscape and what we might look completely differently in the future.”
The address of the mural: Rehtorinpellonkatu 4A, Turku (Student House A).
Read more about Topi Ruotsalainen here.