Women’s creativity since the modern movement (1918-2018): toward a new perception and reception
by Ilja Meijer
Architecture, design, engineering and related fields have long been – and sometimes are still – perceived as masculine dominated professions. Since 2014, the internationally oriented MoMoWo – Women’s Creativity since the Modern Movement project has aimed to draw attention to the accomplishments of women working in these fields. In the final symposium of the project, that took place at de Politecnico di Torino from 13th-16th of June 2018, it became very clear that the visibility – or rather invisibility – of creative women in history books and contemporary practices, is still an urgent and problematic issue.
For several years, dr. Marjan Groot – senior lecturer and associate professor for Design History and Theory in the Arts and Culture programs – has been a member of the scientific committee of the MoMoWo project. The project is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Commission and is a collaboration between universities and research or documentation institutes from Turin (Italy), Lisbon (Portugal), Oviedo (Spain), Ljubljana (Slovenia), initially Grenoble (France) and later on Bratislava (Slovakia). VU University is the Dutch partner since 2016, continuing the efforts dr. Marjan Groot started at Leiden University.
The MoMoWo final symposium was preceded by three international workshop conferences, organized at Leiden University (September 2015), at ZRC-SAZU Research Centre in Ljubljana (October 2016) and at UNIOVI University in Oviedo (October 2017). They all focused on a different period in time, respectively 1918-1945, 1946-1968 and 1969-1989. As a concluding event, the theme of the final symposium in Turin stretched the whole period from 1918 to 2018. All papers presented at the workshop conferences and final symposium are or will be available in open-access online publications.
Even more than in earlier activities of MoMoWo, the final symposium showed the international network of associations, bottom-up initiatives, academic researchers, professionals from the work field and others that are concerned about the position of women creative professionals in current practices as well as written histories. The busy symposium schedule included 152 paper presentations from 35 different countries, from 203 authors affiliated with 135 different institutions: academics and non-academics shared their latest researches, projects or personal experiences in front of an equally diverse audience.
All lectures and presentations were assembled in plenary sessions and corresponding parallel session, covering the themes: women’s education and training (A) ; women’s legacy and heritage (B); women in communication and professional networks (C); women and cultural tourism (D); women’s achievements and professional attainments (E); women and sustainability (F); and women “as subjects” of archives and research (G). Furthermore, two specialist sessions were organized, focusing on design drawings and women’s spaces in the city and landscape.
Dr. Marjan Groot organised and chaired panel F – Women and Sustainability, asking how women designers, architects and civil engineers respond to the pressing issues of sustainability and recycling. Plenary Session F took place on Friday afternoon and consisted of three lectures. The first speaker, the young Dutch designer Jessica den Hartog, presented her project Recolored: A New Way of Recycling. Frustrated by the current processes of recycling plastic – where all original bright colours are lost and are transformed into a boring, grey and uniform material – she has examined the possibilities of sorting plastic waste by colour and recycle them accordingly, maintaining the colour quality of the original material. The second lecture was provided by Karlijn Arts and Eva van der Velde, who presented the Living Light project, originally designed by their studio partner and Dutch designer Ermi van Oers. The Living Light-lamp uses microbial fuel cell technology to produce light whenever the plant inside the lamp is softly stroked. Although it started as an utopian experiment, they believe the lamp will be available in limited edition in stores soon. Last but not least, the third lecture focused on a whole different approach to architectural sustainability. Architects Jane Weinzapfel and Andrea Leers from Boston, Massachusetts (United States) presented several designs of housing for energy facilities, water management installations and other public service elements. With the ongoing growth and density of cities and campuses it becomes more important to integrate such installations in the urban landscape in a sustainable and resilient way.
During the discussion at the end of the panel, Weinzapfel and Leers showed their enthusiasm for the proposed possibilities of the other presented projects. According to them, the technology integrated in the Living Light could for example be integrated in architecture and landscape design, producing light in reaction to the movement of users and people passing by. Although seemingly very different, the common factor of three lectures was that all presenters were women professionals reacting to or making use of technical advancements in our modern society in a sustainable way.
The corresponding parallel session F included presentations about women working with a sustainable approach, such as Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma and the architect Ada Tolla of studio LOT-EK, as well as the sharing of personal experience working with local and sustainable materials by Italian architect Chiara Pasut. The relationship between architecture and its direct environment and threshold places was illustrated by the work of ‘four fantastic females’: Emilia Bisquert, Christine Otto-Kanstinger, Valeria Fossati-Bellani and Kate Macintosh. Social sustainability was also addressed in the story of participatory design workshops that were organized in Turin with the aim of empowering homeless women.
One of the papers in parallel session F was submitted by Honours BA student, majoring in English Literature and Society, Katherine Monica Marciniak and presented by dr. Marjan Groot in her name. She made a small itinerary of ten women designers and ten architects that work in a profound sustainable manner in the Netherlands. Other representatives from the Netherlands included Ilja Meijer – teacher at Arts and Culture BA program at the VU and research assistant for the MoMoWo project – and Charlotte van Wijk from the Architecture Department of Delft Technical University. Ilja Meijer presented her paper on women working as interior architects in the Netherlands, in light of her research on the fifty-year-anniversary of the Beroepsvereniging Nederlandse Interieurarchitecten (BNI). Charlotte van Wijk showed the results of her archival research, uncovering the history of Women’s Studies at TU Delft and its pioneers in women’s education and training.
Other activities organised as part of the symposium’s program included visiting the MoMoWo travelling exhibition at photography studio Phlibero, a conference dinner at restaurant Duparc – a design by architects Laura Petrazzini and Corrado Levi – and walking tours through the city of Turin where everyone could discover a wide variety of women’s works. The travelling exhibition was combined with the exhibition Generators of Landscape, showing the work of six historic and six contemporary female landscape architects and created by the Italian organisation of landscape architects La Voce delle Piante. Furthermore, the symposium took place at an important historical site. The Lingotto campus is situated in the southwest of the city inside the former Fiat factory, which is a vital part of Turin’s heritage as ‘car city’. On the roof, the former test racetrack is still present.
The e-book corresponding to the final symposium, including all submitted papers, and the book on project results will be available as open-access source soon. On the website of MoMoWo you can also find the exhibition catalogue MoMoWo – 100 works in 100 years, the MoMoWo cultural itinerary, the e-books from the preceding conference-workshops, and much more.
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