‘Post 1945 Industrial Design Perspectives – Slovenia and Iskra in a changing world’ In Barbara Predan and Cvetka Pozar (eds) ISKRA: 1946-90, Non-Aligned Design, Architecture Museum, Ljubljana, 2009, pp.19-49.
This essay was written as one of three in the book Iskra: Non-Aligned Design 1946-1990, published to coincide with the exhibition of the same name held at the Architecture Museum, Ljubljana (AML) from 12 November 2009 to 28 February 2010. The aim of both the book and the exhibition was to recover the ‘lost’ or ‘hidden’ history of the Iskra company which, at its height, employed 35,000 people, had its own design department with high standards of design that were widely recognized through the winning of more than 130 international design awards. Between its foundation in 1946 and its break-up in the political turmoil of the early 1990s, Iskra also played a highly significant part in the economic development of Yugoslavia, one of the most progressive, although ‘non-aligned’, of European communist countries. The project organizers, AML and PEKINPAH, the Slovenian culture, publishing and production group, described the research concerns that they sought to address in the following terms:
[Yugoslavia’s] legacy is considerable, but unfortunately it remains hidden in archives in Slovenia and abroad: it is neglected and remains “non-aligned” on the map of European and world design. This seemingly unusual title [ISKRA: NON-ALIGNED DESIGN 1946–1990] therefore draws attention to important design achievements in Eastern and Central Europe and its quality, which should be featured in all textbooks on the history of design.
As part of this endeavour I was invited to contribute an essay that addressed the relative absence of Yugoslavian, and more particularly in this case, Slovenian design from the world map of design history. The reasons I was invited to investigate this premise was in part due to my international standing as a design historian, as author of one of the internationally best selling design history texts of recent years (Twentieth Century Design, Oxford University Press, 1997), and as a researcher campaigning internationally for the rediscovery of the “lost” and disappearing histories of design.
As considered elsewhere in my Research Portfolio (Woodham: Design Historical Map, 2005), I have been researching and writing the concept of 'lost histories’ for more than a decade. This was spurred on by my participation in the Historíar des de la Perifèria, Historia I Historias del Disseny conference at the University of Barcelona in 2000 and my involvement in the establishment of what became the International Conference of Design History and Design Studies (ICDHS), one of the specific objectives of which was to ‘correct’, or expand, the prevailing and geographically and culturally restricted world map of design history. This was followed though in a series of international keynote addresses and publications that considered the ways in which the world map of design history has been generally constructed around a select number of nations that amount to little more than 10% of countries of the world. These interventions have included my presentation, entitled ‘The ICOGRADA Archive: ‘Lost Histories’ and Future Prospects’, to the 2003 ICOGRADA XX Assembly in Nagoya, where 58 nations were represented, through to my more recent 2008 keynote address: ‘Design Peripheries, Hidden Histories and the Cartography of Design’, delivered at the Another Name for Design: Words for Creation International Conference for Design History and Design Studies in Osaka, Japan.
One of the challenges facing me in seeking to ‘re-align’ Iskra’s - and, by implication, Slovenian - design in a wider design historical context is the nature of available documentary and other prime historical material. There are less than 2.5 million Slovenian speakers today, the Slovenian design profession as an entity is less than 60 years old and design education still emerging in terms of its economic, social and cultural influence; design history as an academic discipline is still in its infancy. Issues of language accessibility may partly explain which Slovenian design has received a lesser profile than the communist aligned countries, particularly the former German Democratic Republic which has been the subject of rigorous and revealing research and publication over more recent years. Even the wide-ranging recent (2007) exhibition at the V&A and associated publication Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970, despite its embrace of design in Hungary, Poland and other countries of the Eastern bloc, plays relatively scant attention to design in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and its member states. The inconsistent state of industrial design in Slovenia during the years in which my chapter is concerned is captured in Barbara Predan’s article, ‘Design Theory in Slovenia: Mapping the Field’, in Design Issues, (vol. 22, no. 4, Autumn 2006). Predan has also co-authored, with Tanja Berčon, the book Nazaj k oblikovanju - Antološki pregled teorije oblikovanja v slovenskem prostoru (Back to Design: An Anthological Survey of Design Theory in Slovenia), Litera/Pekinpah Association, 2007. Insights into design issues in other Yugoslavian republics include Jasna Galjer’s book, Design of the Fifties in Croatia: from Utopia to Reality, Zagreb: Horetzky, 2004, and Fedja Vukiç’s article, The Concept of Formgiving as a Critique of Mass Production, Design Issues, (vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 2007).
However, one of the important aspects of ‘re-aligning’ Iskra and Slovenian design is to evaluate how well known it was in other countries, was to test the validity of the claims of the organizers of the ISKRA: 1946-90, Non-Aligned Design exhibition at the Architecture Museum Ljubljana’s that as a high profile manufacturer and successful design networker and exporter it has been ignored by historians of design in Europe and beyond. In fact, in support of this assertion, there is a considerable amount of primary material outside Yugoslavia in the University of Brighton’s Design Archives holdings, most notably the Design Council Archive and the Archives of the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (COMRADE) and International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (VISCID), all of which contain a useful amount of material relating to Yugoslavian and Slovenian design between 1945 and the early 1990s, particularly in respect of the “Golden Age” of Slovenian design between 1960 and 1985.
It is anticipated that the content and approach taken here will result in a fresh perspective in future writing about, and research into, European design of the twentieth and twenty first centuries which has generally been dominated by those countries with the largest number of native language speakers and with more advanced status in terms of industrial and technological knowledge. This chapter, along with earlier initiatives mentioned above, is a pilot study that will provide a building block for a much larger and sustained project that will develop research into ‘lost’ or ‘hidden’ histories in a much more sustained programme of investigation.