Review ‘Ideology of Design’ by Branka Ćurčić (Ed.)

On: September 21, 2010
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Before reading any further…

Being born in ex-Yugoslavia and understanding its culture, environment and heritage, I can not exclude them from my review of ‘Ideology of Design’. My analysis could therefore be seen as a different non-Western perspective on the book.

The book promises to give us insight in the theories and practices of the ideology of design during the contradictionary socialist regime in ex-Yugoslavia. Contradictionary indeed, because although Yugoslavia has been said to be socialist during that time , it did, especially in the end of the regime adopt a ‘socialist market economy’ which also had it’s influence in design and consumption.

The book consists out of 12 chapters that neither in form nor in subject have anything in common. Some are interviews, other essays or extracts from other books. Also the subjects range from a very global view on design in the first decades of the 20th century to case studies and recommendations. This might indicate that the book provides us with a very diverse, surprising and open view on the development and ideology of design, and surely that is what the authors intended. However, it does not do so and I will explain why.

Too much importance is given to one group of artists, the EXAT ‘51 from Zagreb. They have been named in almost all chapters that are concerned with Yugoslavia and its ideology of design. I very much question their influence and importance in design in former Yugoslavia, because they were actually never really a coherent group and only managed to create two manifestos and one exhibition during their existence. Why then, does this book place such an emphasis on EXAT ‘51? I suspect that there was no conception of design, let alone, ideology of design during that time in Yugoslavia. The emphasis on EXAT ’51 doesn’t convince me that there was.

The lack of an ideology of design (except for EXAT ‘51 and the ‘New Tendencies’) is however backed up with general views, ideologies and the origin of other tendencies that were relevant elsewhere, though not in ex-Yugoslavia. Other fields of interest, like philosophy and film anaysis, are discussed in which I had a hard time finding out how I could relate them to an Ideology of design. Perhaps it would’ve been more convenient to provide the readers with a broader definition of design so it would’ve made more sense.

I would still highly recommend reading the book. After having read all chapters, it’s obvious how the special kind of economical and political situation of ex-Yugoslavia has formed or, should I say, allowed particular art-forms to be expressed. This is a very delicate situation which is very hard to describe, even more so because art/ design practices and their influence on society were hardly recorded and given relevance during that time. The political situation in the Cold War and the associations with the design ideologies of both the Western and Eastern part of Europe, made it almost impossible for ‘neutral’ countries like Yugoslavia to come up with a ‘neutral’ or own kind of design. This is in my opinion best described in the interview with Jerko Denegri (chapter six), who has been working in this field for a long time. Also a very interesting case study of early film and consumerist theory in Yugoslavia shows how the socio-politics of Yugoslavia changed the perception of design in an almost visual way.

The book is published in 2010, but it could have been published in 1985 as well, since it just describes old ideologies and history in Tito’s time. What’s is so remarkable in a book about the ideology of design constructed by its socio-political environment, is that it completely neglects the civil war in 1991-1995 and the socio-economic crisis that has led to it. The civil war is not mentioned even once in this book, nor the consequences or opportunities we can draw from it. This war has been completely neglected as a possibility of constructing an ideology of today’s design. Instead the authors turn to Dutch designers (Metahaven) to write an epilogue on their vision of the ideology of design, of Western design so to say.

Although the book doesn’t provide us with an evolving ideology of design from the early days of Yugoslavia untill now, at least the book gives you the impression that a new kind of ideology of design is needed in which the spirit of today’s world is captured. In my opinion this book makes it obvious that the ideology of their design is heading towards the design of the West. I can understand that the ex-Yugo states have a pro-Western attitude taken into account their wish to integrate in the European Union. But if a country neglects its own identity, it deprives itself from a new ideology of design that is their own, that is unique, authentic, and that is constructed from it’s own political and economical history.

Lastly, what I miss in the book is reading about artists not being afraid of their collective past, but actively confronting themselves with the good and the bad things the past has brought and using that as inspiration in constructing a new ideology of design instead of looking up to the West and trying to fit in. The abbreviation of ‘Ideology of Design’, ID, that is so firmly stated on the front-cover of the book is exactly what this book and the ‘Yugoslavian’ ideology of design needs: It’s own Identity.

ISBN: 9781570272097
Format: Hardcover
Subject: Theory
Pub Date: 02/18/2010
Publisher: Autonomedia
You can buy the book here

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