University of Brighton Design Archives

Collections • Collaboration • Research

Designing Transformation: Jews and Cultural Identity in Central European Modernism book cover

New writing by Design Archives team

Designing Transformation: Jews and Cultural Identity in Central European Modernism book cover

Two new publications feature work by Design Archives researchers, contributing to scholarship in design history, émigré studies and fine art practice, as well as critical archive studies.

A major edited collection, Designing Transformation: Jews and Cultural Identity in Central European Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2021), edited by Dr Elana Shapira, arose from a 2019 symposium at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, in which the University of Brighton Design Archives partnered with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art). Lesley Whitworth and Sue Breakell have each contributed a chapter to the volume, presenting research that has evolved, individually and collaboratively, through a number of activities since their 2015 article in the Journal of Design History , speculating about the research possibilities inherent in our émigré collections.  This new work represents that potential continuing to be realised. Earlier research contributed to the important exhibition at the Jewish Museum London in 2017, Designs on Britain: Great British Design by Great British Designers, and its catalogue.

Whitworth examines the case of Willy de Majo (1917-1993), in whose mature graphic design work she identifies a frequent visual trope, consisting of travel and transport motifs.  This chapter considers what it might mean to locate the emergence of these references, and the sensitivity of doing so in the biography of a Viennese-born Jewish individual, who established his practice in Belgrade in the years before Nazi domination prompted flight.

Breakell’s chapter considers the ‘archival practices’ of three of the Design Archives’ émigré designers, Arnold Rothholz, FHK Henrion and Willy de Majo, considering the ways in which these archives, through their structures as well as their contents, bear traces of the designers’ relationship with their own past, and embody their émigré identity.  Identifying a range of archival practices, the chapter demonstrates how such materials were used to process and make sense of the designers’ own histories in the context of the archive, combining their professional identities as designers with personal narratives of the Central European Jewish lives they left behind.

Also recently in print is a piece by Sue Breakell for an artist’s book by Graham Fagen, The Archive of the Misspelling of Graham FagenPublished by Matt’s Gallery, London, the book accompanies Fagen’s recent exhibition at the Glasgow International Festival.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • August 12, 2021


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