By Tania Messell
The IDH research cluster was represented by three panels at the ICDHS Conference, which took place in Taipei this year, and which aimed at exploring and expanding on the use of ‘global’, ‘world’ and ‘transnational’ design histories and studies. For the panels’ convenors, Professor Jeremy Aynsley, Dr Harriet Atkinson and Dr Yunah Lee, the three sub-panels aimed at contributing to wider debates about design’s geographies and histories by focusing on the entangled and disrupted assimilations of modernist theories and practices following their dissemination within and beyond Europe and North America, from the mid-twentieth century onwards. In total, nine papers were presented within three sub-strands, which formed part of the ‘Trans/national Design Theory and Identity’ conference strand.
The event took place at the Technical University of Taipei, and unfolded alongside initiatives associated with Icsid’s World Design Capital (WDC). A growing interest in design has developed in Taiwan, which could be felt during our visit that included a tour of the main WDC exhibition displaying Taiwanese government and private design initiatives, whilst WDC posters and exhibition displays were disseminated throughout the city. As reported on the conference website, the event took place at a time when the region is attempting to strengthen its competitiveness on international markets, and when research on design has multiplied. The conference thus appeared as a timely occasion to re-appraise the concept of nation by mapping how design has been produced, mediated and consumed across, under, and within national borders, and to expand geographically de-centred, and non-hierarchical studies of design.
Panel ‘Forging Bridges of Understanding? The Emergence of National and Transnational Design Organisation, 1930-1970’, Photo by Zeina Maasri
IDH’s first sub-panel focused on transnational exchanges through a close examination of the emergence of national and transnational design organisations during the period 1930-1970. In so doing, it explored the relationship between national and transnational design cultures, the repercussion of this tension on models and codes of professional practice, and the contexts in which instigators of such mid-twentieth century international organisations operated, as well as their personal imperatives. In her paper ‘Looking inwards and facing outwards: The Society of Industrial Artists 1930-1967′, Dr Leah Armstrong examined the British Society of Industrial Artists’ growing involvement in the export of their code of professionalism within international design fora, and in so doing stressed the need to examine the professionalization of design in Britain as being shaped through a complex negotiation between the national and the transnational. Tania Messell’s paper, ‘Design across borders: the establishment of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), 1953-1960′ revealed that the frictions that surrounded ICSID’s formation resulting from Cold War politics, local agendas, and different design cultures. Drawing from the concept of ‘grounded cosmopolitanism’, she revealed that cosmopolitan professionals primarily relied on local professional networks and commitments, and argued for the need to examine their members through a transnational place-based approach. Dr Harriet Atkinson’s paper, ‘The “stateless” designer: Misha Black (1910-77) and the internationalization of design practice’, in turn explored Black’s role in internationalizing British design cultures by shedding light on the incentives that drove his contribution to ICSID and to other design organisations and his impact on these transnational sites. As Atkinson argued, international involvement was central part of the practice for designers such as Black, and their initiatives, motivated by political, personal and professional considerations, made them key mediators across and beyond design circles.
The second panel engaged with issues of modernity and modernism in Lebanon, Jamaica and Britain by focusing on the complex adoption and reworking of modernist theories and practices after 1945, through the lens of post-colonialism, nationalism, regionalism, and transnational exchange. Zeina Maasri’s paper ‘Double Trouble: Decentering the West, Dislocating the Nation – A Transnational Perspective to the History of Graphic Design in 1960’s Beirut’, argued for a double decentring of the West and the nation from their privileged positions in accounts of global (modern) design history. Drawing from postcolonial critique and globalization theory, it proposed a critical method to analyse the overlaps and disjunctures between transnational circuits of visuality in the study of graphic design at particular locations and historical junctures of modernism. Tom Wilson’s paper, ‘Displaying the Commonwealth: Modernism, Nationalism and Decolonization at the Commonwealth Institute, London, 1958-73’ in turn examined the Commonwealth Institute in London as a significant and complex space through which ideas about modernity and national identity were conceived and communicated during the dismantling of Britain’s empire. The paper addressed the complexity of decolonisation by showing how newly independent countries sought to take control of their own representation, with a special focus on the display conceived by Archigram Architects in 1973, ‘Instant Malaysia’. Elli Michaela Young’s paper, ‘Fashioning Jamaica 1950-1975 from Colony to Nation: Textile Production, Dress and the Fashionability of African Diaspora between 1950-1975’, in turn appraised the ways in which Jamaican fashion and textiles were utilised in the construction of Jamaican national identity in a period when notions of race, class and gender were negotiated in construction of a new-decolonised and ‘modern’ Jamaica.
Panel ‘Transnational Exchange through Design’, Photo by Harriet Atkinson
The last panel in turn approached ways in which modernist theories have been translated beyond Europe and North American centres through the examination of domestic spaces in India, Japan and Korea, and how issues of standardization, nationalism, transnational relations, and regional particularities impacted upon the latter. Dr Yunah Lee’s paper, ‘From Furnace to System Kitchen: Modern Living in Korean Kitchen Design in 1970s and 1980s’, investigated the extent to which the construction and design of kitchen space in Korean apartments showed similar or different formal elements and ideological debates in comparison to Euro-American cases, and discussed how concepts of modularity, standardization, and diverse ideas of modern living developed in a specific Korean context. Dr Megha Rajguru’s paper ‘Modern Living: Domestic Interiors in 1980s Urban India’ subsequently examined and compared two housing schemes designed by the Indian architect Charles Correa, the Belapur Housing (1986) and the Kanchanjunga apartments (1983). Rajguru’s paper in turn revealed that whilst transnational discourses of ‘Third World’ development were translated in the design of the former, ideas of conspicuous consumption in a liberalising economy were reflected in the latter’s luxurious interior spaces. Rajguru as such shed light on the existence of coeval modernities, and in so doing challenged a temporal understanding of modernity, as evolving from pre-modern to modern. Dr Izumi Kuroishi’s paper, ‘De-fact Standard of Tatami-mat in the Industrialization of Japanese Public Housing’, analysed the process of deconstruction of traditional lifestyle to create a national architectural module and prototype planning for public housing, compromising the traditional contractors’ system with the national policy, and investigated how tatami mat became a symbolized standard in the 1950s and 1960s, which compensated for the gaps that existed between industrialization and modernization.
The panels were well attended and the discussions allowed the panellists to expand upon their ideas and current research, whilst valuable feedback was received from the audience. The rest of the conference gathered panels and papers of high interest (the programme and published proceedings can be viewed on the conference website) and fruitful discussions on issues of methodology and key concepts took place with other contributors working on common areas of research. Moreover, the conference being ICDHS’s tenth edition, several presentations and round-tables punctuated the event, which examined ICDHS’s past achievements and future projects and challenges. It must also be noted that the next ICDHS conference venue in 2018 has not yet been selected to this day.