Art & Culture staff at Design History conference in Taipei



The 10th conference for Design History and Design Studies (ICDHS) took place in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and was hosted at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST). This three-day conference included three keynote lectures, three round tables and some 130 papers exploring ‘global’, ‘world’ and ‘transnational’ design histories and design studies. This was the second time that an ICDHS conference was organized in Asia, after Japan in 2008. The ICDHS conferences have aimed to globalize the curriculum of design history and have been organized accordingly in less visible design geographies such as Spain, Cuba, Turkey, Mexico, Finland, Belgium, Brazil and Portugal. This tenth conference was an opportunity for reflection on what has already been achieved and what needs to be done. In these years, there has been a clear paradigm shift in design history, which has expanded its scope to include previously marginalized geographies and chronologies. Books such as Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber’s History of Design. Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400-2000 (2013) and Victor Margolin’s World History of Design (vols. 1 and 2 in 2015) illustrate this. In order to compile the legacy and discuss the future of these conferences, the book ‘Reflections on Design History and Design Studies 1999 to 2016: celebrating the ICDHS 10th Anniversary’ was launched in the closing session.


Among the delegates, our department was well represented. There were papers by three graduates from the MA Design Cultures, one from the research master VAMA and one member of the staff. The first paper was co-authored by Ragna Manz and Irene Maldini. Manz is a Design Cultures graduate, a lecturer on design theory at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam and editor of several publications. Currently working on her PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Maldini’s PhD focuses on user involvement in design and sustainability in fashion. Their paper presented a thorough study of the sartorial habits of Amsterdam women in the 1950s and the 2010s. The shift from custom-made to mass-produced clothing has been the subject of a number of studies. This paper identified some discrepancies between common manufacturing processes and values related to identity in both periods. It argued that these discrepancies could be pinpointed as one of the causes of the re-emergence of customized production nowadays.


The panel ‘Mobilizing the Empirical. Three Challenges to National Histories of Design’ gathered the papers of Katarina Serulus – the third Design Culture graduate of the list who currently holds a PhD from the University of Antwerp -, Joana Meroz – a VAMA graduate who is completing her PhD in our department -, and Javier Gimeno-Martínez – an assistant professor of Design Cultures. If the traditional format for national histories of design has been rendered obsolete, what are the alternatives? This panel reflected on possible frameworks for national histories of design that would acknowledge transnational flows. Each paper tested the potentialities of the empirical –respectively subjects, infrastructures and objects- to rearticulate national histories of design in times of globalization.


Firstly, Serulus’ paper looked at how the state can be superseded as a framework of the national by looking at individuals. Her study of Josine des Cressonières offers a good prism to look at the interactions between the national, supra-national and international. Responsible of the state-sponsored Brusssels Design Center but also secretary of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), Des Cressonières career connected policies at different levels. Secondly, Meroz’s paper is related to her PhD discussing the social and material construction of the idea of ‘Dutch design’ in the context of international cultural policy in the period 1970-2012. Her paper traced the transnational infrastructures involved in the making of ‘Dutch design’ through the analysis of the ‘Design for the Public Sector’ travelling exhibition. It concluded that infrastructures shape discourses in very specific ways and their importance needs to be acknowledged. Thirdly, Gimeno-Martínez’s paper discussed the degree of flexibility in which traditional national histories of design have dealt with foreign designers. He argued that this flexibility has not been granted to the same extent to objects. On the contrary, objects have been only considered national design as long as they have been designed or produced by national designers or manufacturers. A revision of this approach would consider how the national has been visually and materially shaped through objects. He argued for a revised national history of design that would include all these objects, regardless their authorship.

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