The German Art History Journal „Kunstchronik“ now published in the volume 72/4 a review article by Nanobasvhili and Grossmann about the past architecture exhibition „Hybrid Tbilisi“ in the German Architecture Museum Frankfurt. The article is dealing with the main theses of the exhibition on Georgian Architectural History from the Russian Occupation since the 19th century till the current times. The exhibition was part of a couple of major events during the Frankfurt Book Fair 2018, where the Republic of Georgian was the Guest of Honor with the slogan „Georgia – Made by Characters„.
Talking about Soviet art in the public sphere isn’t quite new. Since a quarter of a century went by, the research is just beginning to evaluate and explore the era of communism in Georgia in different projects like the Georgian SovLab is doing it. As contrast on daily life from nowadays and in former times, or as a newly discovered part of nation’s own story, the historization of the time between 1921 and 1991 in the South Caucus is sometimes highly political.
Likewise this counts for art history, even if the art of the past declared to be apolitical. A new book about mosaics in Soviet Georgia demonstrates these two sides of a coin with emphasis.The new catalogue “Art for Architecture. Georgia – Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990” edited by Nini Palavandishvili and Lena Prents came out at the end of last year at DOM publisher in Berlin. It is a combined book with essays and more than hundred mosaics as examples, which are well illustrated by a lot of past and contemporary photographs. So first, this book with around 270 pages is readable as a classic catalogue. But second, all mosaics are also coordinated on different maps and are virtually marked with QR-code, which is usable with a smartphone and connected to a map.
The volume from Palavandishvili and Prents is a documentation for many of the Soviet mosaics in Georgia between the 1960s and 1990s. The authors cluster the book into two parts, the first section is about the Soviet modernist mosaics in Tbilisi, the second one about the regions (or let’s say whole Georgia without the capital city). Mosaics are shown in different contexts, from i.e. “Sport and Health”, “Industry”, “Housing” or “Services” or else. The index with persons and another one with places plus five maps in different scales help the reader to use this publication in multiple ways.
It is also worth to mention, that the print, the paper quality, and the haptic of the book is very valuable. DOM publisher did great job, it combines high quality in printing with precious content. Thus it is a book, which I really like to have in hands. Its format is so handy, that you can even carry it when you travel in Georgia. At this point it is also helpful to refer to another book in this manner from the DOM publisher house, which came out last year as well: it is an architecture guide throughout Tbilisi by Heike Johenning and Peter Knoch. These complementary boos are highly recommended book for visitors of Georgia, which are interested in art history, especially in architectural history. Unfortunately the city guide is only in German right now, but perhaps that is coming soon.
Anyway I’d like to strengthen one point, which is mentioned by Palavandishvili and Prents, but not followed much (p. 14). From the point of social history, the rise of the art of mosaics in Soviet Georgia has a coincident with the regime change from Khrushchev to Brezhnev very much, so it is also reconnected with politics.
Khrushchev denied and forced to building more economically and not in a kitsch way, like he argued the Stalinist architecture is characterized. He called in 1954 i.e. for less ornaments and more industrial construction in architecture. After Khrushchev lost power in 1964, the rise of the mosaic art started as well. I would argue that here is a very close connection, that mosaics at architecture were a kind of compromise from the post-Khrushchev men in power to the society, especially the so-called nomenclature. In this way new buildings don’t had to be bare, but they were also detached from the architecture in the Stalin era. It seems, that the mosaic art was from this point of view for the Soviet men in power a kind of compromise between different internal fractions. Thus mosaics become an essential part of architectural negotiation in the South Caucasus.
Quite fascination is also the argument by Palavandishvili and Prents, that there is a close connection between Soviet Georgia an Mexico. It is a kind of left folk art bounds together both regions over the globe. I cannot judge this thesis, so I am looking for forward to other reviews and scientific feedback on this catalogue on Georgian Soviet Mosaics.
German Industrial design in the holy land was quite unthinkable after 1945. But since the 1960s designers from Israel and Germany came again in touch. In this short overview I will discuss the relations of the West German Industrial designers to Israel from the 1960s to the 1980s. I will argue, that personal relations were much more important than institutional connections, as one might think.
The beginning of the diplomatic relations between Israel and the FRG in the year 1965 was a kind of a breakthrough. After the Shoah relation with Germany, as the country of the enemy, was a controversial topic in the Israeli society. With the first steps of the Reparations Agreement from 1952, Adenauer and Ben Gurion laid the basics for diplomatic relations in the future. They came thirteen years later by a diplomatic agreement between Bonn and Tel Aviv. With this it became easier for privates or economical connections between West Germany and Israel. It is also important to mention that East German design was hardly unknown, because the GDR had no connections to Israel. East Berlin supported the so-called PLO, like the USSR and other countries from the Eastern Block did, and had no diplomatic relations to Tel Aviv.
Industrial Design was far away from being the post important point at the cultural or economical relations between the two countries. But anyhow, in the 1960s the design connections started growing. They are an interesting point for a transnational design history to study, how the relation between two states came in touch. I will show in the following two parts, that the relationship between these two countries was more based on personal than on institutional connections.
First a lot of West German politicians, industrialists, and designers in the 1960s were very much interested in a connection. Looking into the historical sources, the national socialism, the Shoah or the Second World War, were neither not used as a references nor even mentioned. The Germans as well as the Israelis were much more interested in a design exchange of ideas and goods, bounded with an economical connection. Even after Israel became a member of the International Council of Industrial Design Societies in 1969, the industrial designers of both countries came regularly together.
But after the Six-Day-War in 1967 things went more difficult for German design in Israel. After that, many West German companies were frightened to present their consumer goods in Israel, because they expected as a result a boycott by Arabian states. The Yom Kippur War from 1973 made things even worse, so West German companies and authorities became more careful with their engagement in Israel.
This is also example to show, that a design network had not to go via institutions but can use the personal networks. Because the personal than the institutional connections characterized more the design relations between Israel and the FRG. For example the German Design Council – as state founded institution – planed to show an exhibition in Israel since the end of the 1960s.1 The financial support should come from the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn. In particular Gustav Stein – managing director of the German Design Council and member of the West German Parliament – pushed the idea of a design exhibition in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem forward. But the idea was postponed many times. The background was the fear of a boycott by Arab countries, if companies would present their goods in Israel. So they asked the authorities in Bonn and the German Design Council to postpone the exhibition until the idea was dropped. Till the end of the Berlin Wall, there was no Israel or German design exhibition, it first changed after the German reunification.
Now in the second part, I will give some example how a personal network between Israel and the FRG brought the industrial designers from the two states together. This is important, because as I would argue, most of the connections between Israeli and West German since the 1960s came on a personal way via designers themselves. In the following I will give three examples from each decade to visual this.
In the year 1965 the “form” – the most important West German magazine at that time – published a first reportage on Israeli design. In it Moshe Kohen described the current status of industrial design in Israel. The country was characterized by a lot of migration, thus the Israeli authorities had to build fast but with quality a new livelihood for newcomer in the Holy Land. Following the author design had a very strong position in fulfilling this task. Beside that, the reportage informed the West German readers about the institutions, universities, and the economical situation, the Israeli designer were dealing with in the 1960s.2 It was remarkable, that historical references of design history – one might immediately think about the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv or German architecture sights in Jerusalem or Haifa – were not mention in this article or else where later.
The design connection between Israel and West Germany put on current issues and not reflection history. For example, the article author Moshe Kohen was part of the most important design school in the FRG. Kohen graduated in 1963 at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm. His diploma thesis in the field of product design was on dishes, supervised by Gert Karlow, Leonard Bruce Archer and Horst Rittel.3 Thus Kohen was an design expert, who was trained in Southwest Germany and worked later in Israel. So Kohen is one example for the personal network between both countries. It is a pity, that his binational design biography is not in the focus of the design history till today.
Another prominent example is the visit of 1973 by Julius Posener – by this time head of the German Werkbund – together with Wend Fischer – director of the Neue Sammlung in Munich – and Wilhelm Wagenfeld – a famous German product designer.4 The three important German designers were invited to an exhibition vernissage in Jerusalem, where the design by Wagenfeld was shown to an Israeli audience. All three were also guests at the new permanent exhibition on Israel design in the Israel Museum. Posener wrote fascinated about the welcome address by Teddy Kollek, the famous major of Jerusalem by that time. Especially the biography of Posener could be worth to have a look at, because he was forced to emigrate after 1933 to Palestine due to the National Socialism in Germany and later came back to Germany. Via Posener there could be a strong connection between i.e. the German Werkbund and Israel, but this needs more archival research in the Posener Archive in the Academy of Arts Berlin.
The last example is the personal exchange in design education. The Siemens designer Jens Reese gave in the end of the 1980s a design seminar series at the famous Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In these seminars he taught his ideas of creativity methods. Especially his visual permutation methods – a kind of elemental design method – were widely asked by the Israeli design students. Reese was also interviewed by the “form” on his impressions about Jerusalem, Israel and the design there. He gave an interesting overview on Israel design education, difference between continental Europe and the Holy Land as well as his experiences from the design courses at Bezalel.51 Rat für Formgebung, Tätigkeitsbericht 1970, pp. 15.
2 Kohen, Mosche (1965): Briefe aus Tel Aviv – Design in Israel, in: form (31), p. 10-11. Very similar to that was the article Steiner, Simon D. (1966): Design in Israel, in: Industrial Design (5), pp. 68-71.
4 Posener, Julius (1973): Besuch in Jerusalem, in: Werk und Zeit (7), p. 7.
5 See Unknown (1986): Spinner gesucht, in: form (114), p. 78 and Reese, Jens (1988): Mit traumwandlerischer Sicherheit gestalten… in: form (121), pp. 23-25.
The so-called computerization of the western societies at the beginning of the 1970s shaped many social subregion. But concerning the work of the graphic designers in the three decades until the new millennium it was a far-reaching change. Some has argued – and in my point of view this would be an outstanding thesis for a research project – that this was a revolution for the profession of the graphic designer.
First civil constructions for design with computers where made in the USA and Western Europe in the 1960s. This so-called „Computer Aided Design“ was in the 1960s widely discussed i.e. under the West-German industrial designer for finding new ways in the production design. Anyhow not before the 1980s CAD was used in this way. Even some are arguing that this way of developing design by computers came in the factories not before the 1990s. So it was a long way to go until the industrial designers used CAD in their daily working life.
In contrast to that the neighbor profession of the graphic designer was highly affected by this computerization. So looking at this, it is easy to argue that this all changes the workflow of the graphic designer totally in the time from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. Even before the Time Magazine elected the personal computer as „man“ of the year in 1982, the work support by microchips changed a lot in the graphic fields. First typewriters with electronic assistants started modifying the way of writing not only in offices. With the appearance of first personal computer i.e. the development of new fonts or the printing technics were not anymore a secret knowledge to only a few anymore. Not the airbrush, pencil and ruler was the standard equipment, the PC was the new tool for all graphic designer.
The project „Graphic Means“ lead by Briar Levit at the Portland State University is planning a film about this transformation of work in graphic design. As the trailer shows, this film project wants to demonstrate these revolutionary changes with original cinematic material as well as with different eyewitnesses.
The idea of a city as an environment for living came on the agenda of the designers during the 1970s. This was connected for the designer with an interdisciplinary approach, especially with architects and city planners. One prominent example for this is an international seminar in Georgia in the fall 1980.
The seminar “Design for City Environment” was held from the 6th to the 18th October 1980 in Tbilisi. It was organised within the seminar series by the Soviet VNIITE in cooperation with the ICSID, the IAA (International Association of Art), the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners), the ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), the ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites), the IFI (International Federation of Interior Designers), the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects), the UIA (International Union of Architects) and the WCC (World Crafts Council).1
The 34 participants came from the USSR and from Western countries.2 The professions were widely mixed, thus designers, architects, and met in the capital of the Georgian Soviet Republic at the regional office of the VNIITE. Tbilisi itself was chosen because of a number of its features: there was a combination of a national tradition as well as modern architecture. The city was with over a million inhabitants hugh and had a situation with special climatic conditions.3
The interdesign seminar had the aim to find methods to build the environment of a big city within an urban growth and a massive increase of population.4 To study such questions the participants looked at the Lotkini district in Tbilisi (ლოტკინი), were 17 000 new accommodations were planned. During the interdesign the (international) experts tried to find answers on functional, aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems. Questions like the functional organization of a district, the public services, greenery, design and visual communication, and applied arts. The designer especially looked for aspects on graphic design, secondary architecture, and usability. At the end of the seminar the participants submitted a general concept for the district development for housing, industrial complexes, transport infrastructure, and public spaces.5
The “Interdesign 1980” was the first seminar with international and interdisciplinary cooperation, which tried to solve problems of building a human environment. Furthermore it was a kind of opening for the Soviet Design authorities – like the VNIITE with Yuri Soloviev – to Western experts.6 But this seminar also showed also how limited the possibilities of ideas and plans were. At least only few points from the interdesign seminar found their way into the Lotkini district.
1 Unbekannt (1980): „Stadt-Design“ als Interdesign-Seminar in Tbilissi vom 6. bis 18. Oktober 1980, in: form (90), p. 80.
2 Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, GDR, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Venezuela and the Soviet Union.
3 Unknown (1980): Interdesign ’80 Tbilisi/USSR, in: ICSID-News (November/December), pp. 2-3.
5 Like footnote 3.
6 For further reading Tom Cubbin’s article (https://academic.oup.com/jdh/article-abstract/30/1/16/2623682/Postmodern-Propaganda-Semiotics-environment-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext) and Yulia Karpova’s PhD thesis from 2015 (www.etd.ceu.hu/2015/karpova_yulia.pdf), pp. 328, are an excellent starting point.
This fall I had the great honour to be a Visiting PhD Fellow at the University of Oslo for two month. Thanks to Professor Kjetil Fallan – one of the leading design historians – the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art, and Ideas offered me the opportunity to come to the capital city of Norway.
Kjetil Fallan is a Norwegian professor of design history, e.g. editorial board member of the Journal of Design History and the Design and Culture as well as an author of many publications about design history. His books, papers, and presentations are very inspiring for me and I used a lot of his publications in my PhD thesis. For example his last publications from this year are Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization and Designing Modern Norway: A History of Design Discourse, which I used in chapter on globalised design. I met Fallan at the workshop “Environmental Histories of Design” in the summer 2015 at the Rachel-Carson-Center in Munich. This intensive workshop about sustainability in design history was really inspiring for me (see my blogpost about the workshop). I think the same will be for the annual conference of the Design History Society, which will be held 2017 in Oslo. The title is “Making and Unmaking the Environment” and is organised by Kjetil and his team.
Against the background that I had studied twice abroad with a lot of good experiences, it was obvious for me to visit another university outside of Germany during the PhD project. And it was also consistent to combine this with writing my chapter about the West German Industrial Designers in a globalised world. Because of Fallan’s high quality research, as well as Norwegians‘ high fluency in English, I decided to apply for a research fellowship in Oslo. And happily, the department at the UiO were willing to invite me and offered me working space for two month.
Getting financial support for my Norway stay was also possible. Thanks to the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, which supports my PhD project since 2014, it was not too complicated to get extra money for my visit. If this way would not be successful, there were also a possibility for Germans to apply at the Willy-Brandt-Foundation in Oslo, because they are also supporting academic exchanges for researchers. It would also be possible to apply for a short visit scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service.
Beside the whole organisation of my visit in Oslo, there was one detail I was really astonished about in a positive manner. All correspondence, contracts, and inquiries were in a digital form. Furthermore my impression was that everything went on quite fast. For example “digital” and “fast” are not adjectives I would use for the German bureaucracy, especially at universities. That is a good thing to show, that in Germany e.g. a lot of time and energy is invested in discussions on a digital life – and in Norway many things are made more pragmatic in this point. Or to reflect one self and use the word from an interview with foreigners in Germany: “Paper in Germany is valued like God”.
The art history section, where Professor Kjetil Fallan and his colleagues are working, is part of the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas – or the short form in Norwegian “IFIKK”. The department itself is situated at the Campus Blindern, in the Georg Morgenstiernes hus. This 1960s red brick building was renovated a few years ago, so the interior space is quite new and very delightful. At the first day I was kindly welcomed by everybody and I got a working space with two other nice PhD students from art history in the room. Also I received an access card and a room key, to be able to work outside the main working hours or at the weekend. Get a room, card and keys as an external founded PhD student at the LMU in Munich, I have not heard that this has happened. Thus, these small details can demonstrate what kind of appreciation and attention in Norway is given towards scientists, PhD students and guests.
All the art historians in the department where very kind and open towards me, especially Kjetil and his PhD students Ingrid, Ida, and Gabriele integrated me so thoughtfully. Also new and remarkable for me was in which way the university is caring for the employees. Every Monday a huge basket with a variant of fruits were delivered. A fully-automatic coffee machine was also free for use. Also home office, part time or parental leave are not extraordinary, in Norway they are already ordinary. Getting a kindergarden place in Norway is not a lottery game, like it is in Munich. So everything gave the impression, that one looks with care after its employees. In comparison to a German higher education institution and the German sciences system, the difference catches the eyes.
In this great atmosphere, it was possible for me to write my chapter about West German industrial designers and their discourses about globalisation. Besides that, I was also able to write a short paper about the special German-German design relations in the Cold War. In comparison to German PhD seminars, the Norwegian procedure is more a text discussion. Thus, this means more writing an article and only giving a brief presentation, followed by a comprehensive discussion. I had the feeling, this procedure has some advantages. Because first, the author has a text, on which s/he can work and e.g. re-write parts to make it better. And second the audience can prepare itself and do not have to listen to over-length presentations. I was very pleased with the seminar and all the questions, comments, and tips I got on my text. Thus, perhaps I can keep working on the text, when I am back in Germany. With some luck, I will find a place to publish these results.
For living, there is a possibility to apply for researcher housing at the student welfare organisation for students in Oslo (SiO). In my case it was a furnished, small room in the Sogn student village, next to the Blindern Campus. It was ok to stay there for two months, but in the end, I cannot recommend it. Because the SiO has housing “quality”, “services” and invoices, which are not in a balanced proportion. Unfortunately the housing market in Oslo is as bad as in Munich. So you need quite a large portion of luck to find something that is fitting, affordable, and not behind the bushes. Beside the fact that the costs of living in Norway are as high as their reputation. In comparison to Munich – which is the most expensive city in Germany – I would guess that you have to spend about 30% more for food and the daily life. So with the German salary for PhD students – which is also low in Germany itself – you really have to live economically and fugally.
The regional office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation is more focused on Sweden. Norway or Oslo are unfortunately not their main focus. But beside this, the Goethe-Institute in Oslo is organising a couple of interesting events in Norway’s capital city. Especially the podium discussions e.g. about the phenomena of populism, held in the Litteraturhuset, was really worth attending. I also can recommend the Opera House, the National Museum and the Vigeland Museum together with the Vigeland Park in Oslo. Trips to Bergen, Kristiansand, and Lillehammer are also good to make by train and a tip in every travel book. Also Stockholm is not so far away, a high-speed train brings you there in less than five hours.
Thus, thanks to Kjetil, Ida, Ingrid, Gabriele, Gustav, Anne Lise, Aron, Ellif, Espen, Heidi, Lars, Lena, Nikita, Panagiotis, Pia, and all other IFIKK-members for great two month in Oslo!
And I wish all of you a great Christmas time and a happy new year!