Ideology and Authoritarianism: Invented Tradition and Temporal Disconnect

Saturday 10th Sept, 14.30-16.00, Room CG10

Chair: Dr Sorcha O’Brien, Kingston University

How have ideas about the past, invented traditions and icons of national identity been recruited by governments? What is invested in patterns of national remembering and/or forgetting? This session questions the relationship of the discipline of design history to different patterns of the flow of time, especially in relation to place.

42134488_kermikIdeological Time and Temporal Manoeuvres
Jüri Kermik, Associate Head, School of Art, Design and Media, Brighton University
E: W: Institutional Profile

In the 1980s, designers in Eastern Europe were operating in an ideologically contested space of oppression and resistance, closely drawn behind the Iron Curtain. Now, increasingly revisited by design historians as part of the process of reconciliation and coming to terms with complexities of these final years of the Cold War, the 1980s have been described by historians as a decade of disconnected irrational contradictions. Estonian design commentators find it difficult to identify a common denominator for the decade. As if flown through different densities of time, the beginning and ending of the 1980s are seen as incompatible and largely different, making it hard to find ideas, which could have continued into the 1990s, as if, as Ando Keskküla has put it, “they began, ended and possessed a meaning only within their time”.

This paper focuses on temporal maneouvres and transitions in Estonian design discourse as it emerged from the 1980s at the forefront of both the global ideological confrontation unfolding in the Baltics and the national struggle to regain independency. In order to examine the contradictions of reality and imagination, as they were played out and made tangible through creative interventions, this paper will consider the circumstances of design in their regional cultural and political context.

At the core of this investigation reside various variables of time – particularly in their fluidity and material-like capacity to be manipulated, and designed. Whether compressed, folded or stretched, these time-spaces accommodate particular interventions, both real and fictional.

A key question raised in this paper is: How does the discipline of design (and its) history articulate different patterns of the flow of time (external-internal), and their relation to place? For example, Mari Kurismaa, one of the young Estonian designers to engage in the post-Modernist discourse of the early 1980s, explored the metaphysics of space through the medium of painting and installation. Her meticulously executed fictional spaces, with references to times beyond authoritarian control, had very little in common with hostile realities of the lived environment of the 1980s.

In Kurismaa’s declaration, the external chaos enforces internal order and clarity, “time transforms into a space, linear chronology loses its importance – the whole history emerges as an amazing subliminal landscape”. Published in 1987, this statement represents the essence of the perceptions and priorities of the 1980s design generation whose overarching aim was to create an alternative, non-Soviet equivalent of time and place.

Delivered in parallel were the collective design outputs, as presented at the exhibition Time and Place (1986), the first important step in a series of exhibitions which mark the development of design discourse and heralded the switch from one ideological system to another. Following the collapse of the Soviet system, and as part of the process of realignment of nation states and cultures both against the global timeline, and in proximity of physical existence and international visibility, the hitherto unexplored Estonian context provides a rich space in which to explore ideas of time.

Story of a Portuguese cock and other knick-knacks: Heritage, Propaganda and Design in an ultra-right dictatorship
Carlos Bartolo, Lecturer, Arts and Architecture Faculty, Lusíada University of Lisbon (CITAD-ULL and IHA/FCSH-UNL)
E: W: Profile

In Portugal, the Design emergence occurred throughout the period of the ultra-right dictatorship established in Portugal from 1926 until 1974. If the awareness of the discipline was established on several sectors (state, education and industry) at the end of the 1950s – fixing its birth date – its prehistory shouldn’t be dismissws, especially with regard to how it happened on this particular political conjuncture through several empirical approaches carried out by various actors – from the arts and sciences to the government.

During the interwar decades the practice began with the appearance of the first advertising agencies but, mainly with the actions of the Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional-SPN [Bureau of National Propaganda], the state department created to manage and control the propaganda – and consequently culture – established in 1933 with António Ferro, a cosmopolitan writer associated with the modernist and futurist milieu, at its helm.

Through it the regime indoctrinated the nation, channelling its reactionary values on the promotion of nationalistic ideals based on the exaltation of its history, ethnical uniqueness and global mission. Trying to distance itself from an elitist approach that perpetuated an academic stance funded in the nation historical grandness periods, SPN celebrated the (re)discovery of the folk arts – until then deplored as production of the simple illiterate peasant – now understood as the honoured innocent expression of the Portuguese people’s character.

For that purpose, SPN sponsored, conducted and published ethnographic studies while assembling a vast collection of popular artefacts exhibited in Portugal and abroad, until its final establishment as a museum in Lisbon in 1948. Using these folk elements as stimulus it promoted numerous activities as the creation of theatre and ballet companies, diverse editorial lines, an extensive programme of national prizes, the production of a large number of exhibitions and the significant task of presenting Portugal abroad. Its development was a product of the collaboration of several artists, modernist comrades of Ferro who helped him create a new image of Portugal, the persona of Estado Novo (New State), presenting it under a benevolent and bucolic identity moulded on the traditional world of the ‘bonhomous peasant’, allegory of sanctioned values.

This ‘invention of tradition’, using the Hobsbawn concept, can be perceivable on different levels, of which two different cases are here presented. First, the appropriation of a small child clay toy-whistle in the shape of a cock – presented as an innocent folk artefact – its development by the artisans, due to this extraneous influence, until its perception as a national symbol (1950s), and how it was lately absorbed by the more erudite graphic design (1960-1970s). Second, the creation, by the SPN decorative-artists, of furniture and decorative elements based on vernacular specimens that, through its promotion, would evolve on a popular rustic style assimilated, for instance, by the furniture industry.

Through the results of these actions a definition of a Portuguese visual identity was achieved and today, decades after the dictatorship, most of this concept, images and stereotypes continue to be perceived, and exploited, as icons of the national identity.

Ephemeral Factories: Lost Archives of Soviet Estonian Industry
Triin Jerlei, Lecturer, Department of Design, Estonian Academy of Arts

This presentation focuses on the preservation of Soviet Estonian factory archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union and what the fate of these archives tells us of the role of industrial design in Soviet Estonian society or the attitudes towards local industrial design. As a case study, this presentation analyses the sources that have either remained or disappeared from the remaining archives of the former glass factory Tarbeklaas, comparing it to materials concerning other major factories. The aim is to analyse the relationship between design politics, archiving and time, how exactly these notions are intertwined or how they influence each other and, ultimately, how changes in political regimes are mirrored in archives of material culture.

Most larger Soviet factories kept archives, which consisted of product examples, texts, documents, product catalogues, photos and other relevant materials. An essential part of factory archive was the factory chronicle. According to the guidelines of the Communist Party, keeping chronicles had a social and pedagogical purpose: it was supposed to improve the workers’ morale and help build a feeling of belonging in a collective. Like most other Soviet Estonian factory archives, Tarbeklaas does not have a complete preserved archive, although it existed during the Soviet regime. Materials were often either destroyed or stolen. In this particular case study, the materials that could potentially have been preserved in a glass factory archive would be diverse, ranging from products and prototypes to photos and documents. Yet, the amount of remaining materials is meagre and the selection is almost accidental at first glance.

This presentation argues that the reason for this poor preservation of archives is the ambiguous status of industrial design under Soviet rule and after the collapse of the regime. Firstly, industrial design lacked the rebellious appeal of visual arts, happening by default in the factory as a state-controlled location. Secondly, Soviet factories often had poor economic and technological possibilities and thus the quality of industrial objects was often behind Western counterparts. Finally, industrial design had only emerged as a discipline in Soviet Estonia in the late 1960s and establishing itself in the eyes of the wider public took time. All these factors contributed to the disregard of the factory archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The people trying to save the factory archives were mostly designers and workers themselves, but often their possibilities for saving archive materials were limited. Thus, just a few decades later many factories are already at risk of vanishing from the histories of material culture.

Further Reading

Kermik, J (2012) ‘Product’, in: Pelcl, J (ed) DESIGN: Od myšlenky k návrhu: From idea to realization, Prague: Academy of Arts, Design and Architecture.

Kermik, J (2004) The Luther Factory: Plywood and Furniture, Tallinn: Museum of Estonian Architecture.

Kermik, J (2002) AM Luther 1877-1940. Materjalist võrsunud vormiuuendus (Form innovation risen from the material), Tallinn: Sild.

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.