Reports

30 October 2015 -

Prof Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo


I am very grateful to the Design History Society for awarding me its Research Publication Grant for 2015, which will cover the indexing costs for my forthcoming book Designing Modern Norway: A History of Design Discourse (Ashgate, 2016). The book is an intellectual history of design and its role in configuring the modern Norwegian nation state. Rather than a conventional national design history survey that focuses on designers and objects, this is an in-depth study of the ideologies, organizations, strategies and politics that combined might be said to have ‘designed’ the modern nation's material and visual culture. It thereby contributes both to a renewed interest in the relations between design culture and national identity in an age of globalization, and to an emerging reappraisal of the history of Scandinavian design.

The book analyses main tropes and threads in the design discourse generated around key institutions such as museums, organisations and magazines. Beginning with how British and continental design reform ideas were mediated in Norway and merged with a nationalist sentiment in the late nineteenth century, Designing Modern Norway traces the tireless and wide-ranging work undertaken by enthusiastic and highly committed design professionals throughout the twentieth century to simultaneously modernise the nation by design and nationalise modern design.

Taking as its point of departure the strategically and symbolically significant establishment in the 1870s of a number of key institutions, including the Oslo Museum of Decorative Art, the book begins with an account of how British and German design reform ideas were appropriated in Norway and put to work for the greater project of national identity and political independence, finally achieved with the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. Post-independence, the quest for a ‘national style’ gave way to other concerns about modernity, often revolving around issues pertaining to modes of manufacture and the role of the designer.

The interwar period is examined with an emphasis on the class aspect of design discourse. Modern design ideals are traced both in bourgeoisie home decoration magazines and working class housing exhibitions. The peculiar design discourse during the Second World War and German occupation receives due attention, given the massive effects on all aspects of society for an extended postwar period.

Following a discussion of the social vocation and practical concerns that dominated the immediate postwar years, Norway’s underappreciated contribution to the so-called ‘golden age’ of Scandinavian Design is subjected to extensive analysis, chiefly by critically assessing how Norwegian design was presented at international exhibitions. The final chapters examine the disintegration in the 1960s and 1970s of the applied art ethos saturating the dominating, public design discourse—a process brought about both by shifting trends and market structures as well as by fundamental changes to the internal organization of the design professions.

Designing Modern Norway will be the very first English language history of Norwegian design. It shows how design discourse forms a key component in shaping the identity and culture of a modern nation, and offers a fresh perspective on the familiar and mythologized history of Scandinavian design, which has been dominated by accounts of Danish, Swedish and Finnish material. The book also provides a much-needed historical backdrop to the surging international interest in contemporary Norwegian design.

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