Heritage and Symbolic Time

Saturday 10th Sept, 14.30-16.00, Room CG09

Chair: Zoe Hendon, Middlesex University

Papers in this session explore the ways in which time is ‘consumed’ symbolically through ‘heritage’ and through the design of objects which exhibit evidence of use and wear.

42134488_skouMaterialising time: Craft, patina and the symbolic consumption of time through designed objects
Niels Peter Skou, Associate Professor, Department of Design and Communication, University of Southern Denmark
E: nps@sdu.uk

In 2003 Jurgen Bey designed a ’74-minutes’ cup for the traditional Dutch ceramics company, Royal Tichelaar Makkum, as part of his ‘1,132 minutes service’, where the name of the individual parts referred to the time it took to make them through the application of traditional craft techniques. In 2006 British designer Laura Bethan Wood designed a series of ‘Stain’ teacups where a secret pattern revealed itself inside the cup as residue from the tea settled inside it over time in order to give aesthetic value to marks of use and wear.

These two cups both explicitly address time as duration and can be linked to a general cultural theme of ‘slowness’ as it is presently expressed in concepts like ‘slow design’, ‘slow living’ and ‘the return of craft’. But they do it in very different ways. By giving an exact measure of the production time, Jurgen Bey’s cup seems in a way to affirm the Marxist notion that the value of a product is the quantity of work invested in it and that even though it is ‘slow’ the production method is controlled and reproducible. In comparison the Stain cup visualises time as a natural phenomenon that is productive in itself but in an unintentional way.

It seems obvious to view such examples and movements as reactions against the acceleration of modern culture and the elusiveness of industrialised consumer goods. Hereby they refer to historical anti-industrial movements, in particular the Arts & Crafts Movement. I will argue, however, that what sets the modern examples apart is exactly the way time is thematised and communicated in and around the objects. Jurgen Bey’s cup not only displays production time in its naming but also in the way different production phases like the underglazing is visible in the final product. This sets it apart from the traditional craft product that normally strives to eliminate production marks in the final result. The cup bears witness to a double process where the ceramics company shifted its focus from anonymous craftsmen to renowned designers, but where it then became part of the storytelling of how the designers deliberately chose and learned themselves traditional techniques.

Both examples may thus in spite of their materiality be seen as ways of dematerialising design by highlighting the processes the objects are part of. What is consumed is not the object itself but the time it occupies, and the ability to stretch this time is seen as its main quality, which, especially in the case of Jurgen Bey’s extremely expensive service set, is connected to a form of luxury. In a cultural situation where time is experienced as a scarce resource, they can thus be conceived as part of an economy of symbolic consumption of time, which may be viewed as a form of conspicuous consumption (Julier, 2014). They illustrate, furthermore, that the visualisation of the immaterial concept of time takes place in the interaction between the material objects (as signs and marks of production and use) and their contextualisation (in the form of naming and framing). The paper will address these themes more thoroughly by examining further examples of neo-craft, slow design and durability in order to investigate how the symbolic communication and consumption of time is staged through the shaping and promotion of designed objects.

Displaying invisible heritage: the past and present of the Chinese Residence in Nagasaki
Lung-hsing Chu, Assistant Curator, Southern Branch Department, National Palace Museum, Taiwan
E: sing@npm.gov.tw

Designing graphic arts to represent a historical heritage that exists in the present is always a fascinating issue for a designer. The image will be displayed on streets or in traffic hubs such as airports not only to attract people to visit but also to symbolise a cultural significance of the city or country where it is located. However, the issue could be complicated when displaying a heritage that only existed in the past. This paper is centred on the Chinese Residence in Nagasaki, discussing how the heritage is being displayed from the past to the present.

During the Edo period, only Nagasaki allowed foreigners, Chinese and Dutch exclusively, to do business in Japan. By then, De Island for the Dutch and the Chinese Residence for the Chinese had become hubs for dealing with materials from the East and West. However, following political policy change, seashore expansion and the destruction of fire, these two significant sites disappeared in the cityscape of Nagasaki. In recent decades, De Island was recovered as the face of the past with the help of architectural models and graphic arts made in the Edo period. As to the other location, the Chinese Residence, only a stone column indicated it as a historical site. Today, visitors can imagine the past face of the Chinese Residence through the exhibition in the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. In my opinion, there still remains some space for discussing the ways of displaying the heritage of the Chinese Residence. The case in the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture basically relies on the materials discovered in Japan. Nevertheless, a view from the perspective of another side could bring and trigger a new vision of the Chinese Residence.

Firstly, this discussion reveals how the Chinese Residence had been displayed in the past from the Japanese, Dutch and Chinese perspectives. Secondly, through the exhibition in the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, it gives an example of how the Chinese Residence is represented in modern times. In the end, by giving examples showing how De Island is depicted in Nagasaki, Leiden and Amsterdam, I would like to illustrate how heritage is assembled in different exhibitions to achieve a timeless image.

Renewal and Retreat: Heritage-Style Street Furniture Design in 1980s Britain
Dr Eleanor Herring, Lecturer, Design History and Theory, Glasgow School of Art
E: ellieherring@gmail.com

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher entered government with a huge mandate for change. Under her leadership, the Conservative Party began dismantling the post-war vision of a powerful welfare state – with its belief in state-ownership, public service and centralised committees – replacing it with a different set of values based on the primacy of the individual, free enterprise and financial deregulation. These ideological changes had a specific effect upon the design of the public realm, which became subject to market forces and was consequently stripped of its assets. The commercial sale of the British telephone network, for instance, meant that in streets across the country Giles Gilbert Scott’s iconic red telephone kiosk was replaced with an alternative British Telecom model bearing advertising on its metal back. The ensuing public protests saved some of the kiosks, but the act was considered by many as a direct assault on nationalisation and even on the very fabric of British identity.

However, at the same time as Britain’s red boxes were under threat, simulations of the past were becoming more commonplace. Unlike post-war efforts to modernise street furniture – advocates of which wholeheartedly rejected ‘bogus “olde-world” treatment’ in their vision of the future – the political climate of the 1980s was more than willing to commodify the past. Many municipal authorities consequently reintroduced cobblestones, Victorian-style street lamps (complete with make-believe gas flicker), fake cast-iron bollards and ‘heritage’ litterbins with the lettering and municipal coat of arms picked out in gold paint. These aestheticised versions of the past found widespread application in civic spaces once dominated by modernism. They were believed to complement every townscape and represented a means of reinstating the past – as well as Victorian values – within the public realm. In Theatres of Memory, the Marxist historian Raphael Samuel described this phenomenon as ‘retrofitting’. For Samuel, these objects were ‘a kind of talisman of historicity’, but that underneath their ‘period dress’ was actually modernisation in disguise. New ‘old’ street furniture signalled a change in ideological occupancy, just as municipal authorities tried to signal a change in occupancy with modernism during the 1950s.

But heritage street furniture raises certain questions: why choose a simulation of the past over the ‘real’ past? How can the past inform the present without resulting in unintended pastiche? And does nostalgia continue to shape the design of the street today? This paper will examine how heritage-style street furniture design incorporates the past into the public realm. It will specifically analyse these objects in the context of the Conservative policies of Thatcher in 1980s Britain, where pitched roofs, neo-Victorian decoration, and other changes in the built environment reflected a change in ideology. By looking closely at the role of government, conservationists, members of the public, civic societies and manufacturers, this paper will examine changing attitudes to heritage, and explore the extent to which the roots of heritage-style street furniture are ultimately connected to post-war modernism.

Further Reading

Herring, E (2016 – in production) Street Furniture Design: Contesting Modernism in Post-War Britain, London: Bloomsbury.

Herring, E (2015) ‘The acid test of good town design: designing street furniture in post-war Britain’, Annual Design History Society Conference ‘How we live, and How we might live’: Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California.

Herring, E (2014) ‘Street Furniture and the Nation State: A Global Process’, in: A Matter of Design: Making Society through Science and Technology. Proceedings of the 5th STS Italia Conference. An Open Access Digital Publication by STS Italia Publishing.

Herring, E (2014) ‘Sick Serpents and Concrete Giraffes: The Critical Debate on Street Furniture Design in Postwar Britain’, in: Farias P and Atkinson P (eds) Design Frontiers: Selected Papers of the 8th ICDHS Conference. Mexico: Designio.

Julier, G (2014) The Culture of Design, 3rd Edition, London: SAGE, pp.93-94.

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