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.

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