Amnesia and Schizophrenia: Multiple Temporalities in the Creation of National Identities

Saturday 10th Sept, 9.30-11.00, Room CG10

Chair: Dr Harriet Atkinson, University of Brighton

How might design historians deal with notions of time, collective memory and nostalgia in relation to designed objects of the past? Papers in this session address these questions in relation to national identities, asking how ideas of progress and modernization have been employed simultaneously with ideas of past heritage and ‘classic’ designed objects.


Reflections from the Future: Yugoslavian Design Histories and Post-Socialist Nostalgia
Rujana Rebernjak, PhD Student, Design Department, Royal College of Art
E: T: @rucolamostro W: Profile

Following a period of cultural and historical amnesia after the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, local design histories have slowly started to emerge in the past decade. A rediscovery of specific products, designers, manufacturers and movements by historians and designers alike, has been followed by an equally enthusiastic response by the general public, eager, not so much to understand the development of design production, but rather to revel in the comfort of not so distant decades. Time has transformed washing-machines, telephones, scooters, newspaper stands, cars, TV sets, together with a plethora of magazines, movies and television series into material remnants of an idealised past and symbols of an unrealised future.

In her book The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym famously defined the phenomenon as “a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed”. For Boym, the relationship between nostalgia and the passing of time is not only anchored to an imagined past, but rather “fantasies of the past determined by the needs of the present have a direct impact on the realities of the future”. This paper will examine what can be learned about the past through the phenomenon of collective nostalgia in the present, as well as what might be its possible impact on the future of Yugoslavian successor states. In addition, taking into consideration iconic Yugoslavian products, still widely remembered, idealised and, at times, used, it will trace how material objects might be studied precisely from the standpoint of collective longing and examine the impact of post-socialist nostalgia on design studies across the region.

Thus, this paper will examine the relationship between time, collective memory and Yugonostalgia by taking into account three specific objects. The first, kiosk K67, designed by Saša Mächtig in 1967, whose current disuse is documented on an online platform, will be analysed as a symbol of collective nostalgia through which a relationship with the past is preserved. The second object, public seating system UNI87, designed by Mladen Orešić, and still widely used in public spaces across former Yugoslavia, will be examined to understand how our connection to the present is established through objects inherited from the past, as its widespread use has also saved it from acquiring a thick nostalgic patina. The third, a scooter designed by Tomos company and adopted by local youth precisely for its connection to former Yugoslavia, will serve as a starting point for understanding how the phenomenon can inhabit even those realities that haven’t directly experienced the idealised past. Together, these three analyses will show the articulated processes of collective remembering and how nostalgic memories shape our understanding of the present and trace possibilities for the future. In addition, it will also highlight the challenges design historiography faces when confronted with the ‘nostalgic’ lens, through which the past might sometimes appear as nothing more but a frail reflection.

Buying Time: Temporalities of ‘Classics’ in Danish design

Professor Anders Munch and Hans-Christian Jensen, Professor of Design Culture and Associate Professor, Department of Design and Communication, University of Southern Denmark
E: and

Talk of ‘classics’ in design has travelled from designers and critics to marketing through recent decades in Denmark. To buy design classics is often indicated to be an investment in ‘timeless’ values that last. These values are, however, not at all beyond history, and the discourses on classics rather invest meanings in time and history through different temporalities (Gadamer, 1960). The modernist discourse of design professionals praised modern classics as bulwarks to the commercial dynamics of short-lived fads, and this is still part of the reasoning. But this status of the classic is usually underlined by meanings produced in specific, historical contexts or tales of the time invested in the conception or production of the objects (Kurz, 2015). Since the late 1990s the label of design products as ‘classics’ has accelerated through web auctions, vintage shops, re-editions and brand new firms based on intellectual property rights of a designer œuvre, often merely drafts. And the designation has evolved into derivatives such as as ‘retro-classics’ and even the contradictory ‘new-classics’ while trends of retro design and neo-modernism have been part of the picture.

The discourse on classics has been very explicit and polemic in Denmark as part of the Klint School of furniture art and the marketing of Danish Modern (Hansen, 2006). By returning to the first uses of the notion of the ‘classic’ in the Danish furniture tradition in the 1930s and 50s, and discussing different understandings of this notion, this paper traces sources for the current meanings of ‘classics’ in Danish design. Our examples range from the 1915 Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint and Carl Petersen, now celebrated as ’Denmark’s First Modern Design Classic’, to two firms based on a classic: Vipp on a pedal bin by metalsmith and ‘anonymous’ designer Holger Jensen, 1939, and the new firm, by Lassen, on the 1962 candleholder Kubus by architect Mogens Lassen. We will follow the arguments of critics and producers on these designs as classics through different temporalities.

The cultivation and endorsement of classics point to a multi-temporality that is not only contrary to the cliché of timelessness, but also the modern regime of time which modern design has been part of by ‘synchronisations’ to contemporary needs. Critical understandings of temporalisations (Osborne, 1995) and non-synchronicities (Jordheim, 2014) help to investigate accumulations of time and historicity hiding in the rhetoric of the design classic.

agata szydlowska‘Temporal Schizophrenia’ in Polish design history
Katarzyna Jezowska, PhD Candidate in History, University of Oxford and Associate Lecturer, University of the Arts London; and Agata Szydlowska, Lecturer, Department of Design History and Theory, Design Faculty, Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts
E: and T: @kajezowska W: Personal Website

Time is a grand narrative, which stabilises past, present and future. Yet, following Jean-François Lyotard’s critique of grand narratives, we trust that multiple temporalities can co-exist with and/or challenge this triumvirate.

In this paper, we aim to question the linear approach to time that prevails in the officially acknowledged Western-oriented narrative of design history. Looking at selected examples from the history of Polish design, we would like to argue that the relation between past, present and future in the less obvious design locations (peripheries?) developed rather in a non-progressive manner.

Over the last century, Poland has witnessed precisely the same design phenomena and tendencies as Western countries, including a few waves of modernism, several craft revivals, technological fascinations and returns to nature. What was particular for the Polish case, however, was the timing and concurrence of those seemingly opposing temporalities: visions of a utopian future were pursued at the same time as attempts to rebuild the past heritage; ideas of progress and modernisation intertwined with nostalgia.

During this period, Poland has experienced numerous incidents that suddenly made time stop, accelerate or reverse, resulting in both official and personal projects being interrupted, banished or postponed. Consequently, this led to a ‘temporal schizophrenia’, a state of discontinuity of linear time and an uncertainty about the historical past, which Frederic Jameson used to characterise the post-modern period. In the case of Poland, this ‘condition’ manifested itself a few decades earlier and its symptoms can be observed in numerous design and architecture projects.

In this paper, we will examine a few examples from the areas of typography and design exhibitions developed in Poland between the 1950s and 70s. Both disciplines had a utilitarian status: they were designed to communicate someone else’s messages, but simultaneously were expressive in their own right, revealing different aspirations, plans and projections.

Further Reading

Gadamer, HG (1960) Truth and Method, London: Bloomsbury (2013).

Hansen, PH (2006) Da danske møbler blev moderne, University of Southern Denmark Press & Aschehoug.

Jensen, H-C and Nygaard Folkmann, M (2015) Subjectivity in Self-Historicization: Design and Mediation of a “New Danish Modern” Living Room Set, Design and Culture, 7(1).

Jordheim, H (2014) ‘Introduction: Multiple Times and the Work of Synchronization’, History and Theory, 53: pp. 498-518.

Kurz, M (2015) Handwerk oder Design? Zur Ästhetik des Handgemachten, Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Munch, A (ed) (2015) Designkulturanalyser, University of Southern Denmark Press.

Osborne, P (1995) The Politics of Time. Modernity and avant-garde, London: Verso.

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