Open Portuguese Graphic Design Archive: statements as interruptions of institutionalised unit.
The Open Graphic Design Archive is an online platform project open to the design community in order to problematise the processes of the historiography of graphic design and question the authorities and the powers that define objects, themes and authors over time. Who has the power to decide such entries in the history of design? What questions the normalisation of canons and the neutrality of historiography? Replacing the canon-focused historiography as an individual representation and shifting the focus of historiography to the multiple objects that most represent the multiplicity and dispersion of professional identity, our goal is to question the concepts of canon, author and work and the concepts of historical pioneering and authorship in the process of writing history of design. We implemented an inclusive and feminist historiographical process through open contributions from the professional and academic community. This aimed at a greater representation of voices and actors in contemporary historiography and emancipation from the history of Western design in order to define the place of periphery, as well that of Portuguese design as a place of history itself. Our call is to include new objects and resources in the whole of the history of graphic design in Portugal to enhance new stories, studying parameters that have been excluded from the great story narratives, collectives as unknown authors, objects and issues (in addition to individual authorship) that are of interest today in the domain of critical history. Objects made by amateurs, and not by graphic arts professionals, and not included in the history of design. The graphic object, the result of everyone's work, will allow the construction of an alternative and parallel narrative, without an author and his work as the privileged narrative construction, adding diversity of graphic objects that aren’t included in the history canon.
The recent writing concerning the history of Portuguese graphic design is no different from the Anglo-American historiography model. Graphic practices and graphic design in Portugal have a singular path, added to an economic, industrial and social context distinct from the rest of Europe. Historically, recurrent attempts to study these practices have followed the same models and methodologies of the “big” history, extolling exceptional figures, promoting the individuality and individual style of the authors, combining them with qualitative assessments according to the same parameters. The history of Portuguese graphic design still follows these same models as a failed game of similarities.
What are the graphic objects and design practices that do not fit in the design discipline? Graphic design as a discipline is also an institutionalised unit. What graphic design is or is not, and what is the target of interest for historiography depends on the correspondence of these manifestations — graphic objects, graphic practices and professional identity — with the institutionalised unit that is graphic design as a discipline. Disciplining a practice implies making regular, defining qualitative objects and practices, which correspond to the exercise of authority. Thus, it is important to identify objects that do not fit the current logic of the grand narrative of progress and are therefore excluded from being investigated. Highlighting the problems of a model imported into the Portuguese context, proposing new series of objects and new categories of object studies, and considering working models are all essential for developing a more contextualised approach to understanding current and historical art and design. This is why the archive will contain materials that are not yet treated as “graphic design material” but can be cataloged as “printing material” made in printing workshops. In most cases this is anonymous work, made by print workers rather than graphic designers, but also with real attention to the context of the graphic objects and the histories around them. We want to reflect on new themes and unique circumstances in order to expand the spectrum of typologies of graphic objects and understand how they represent the context in which they were created.
The resources that the Open Archive is looking for are artefacts that can embrace new approaches to the theory and criticism of graphic design. These may be made for local causes, specialised audiences or small enterprises, or may be created by a collective effort in a team where we can´t determine who was responsible for what. The ultimate goal will be to build a virtual place that contributes new artefacts to the present from the past.
We want to understand how invisibility is justified: questioning society and its patriarchal education, exposing the credit omissions, the collective works in which the leader is the protagonist and the importance placed upon the designer's graphic identity or individual style (even when it is a team, the individual signature tends to prevail). Finally, we need to question the disproportionate profile enhancement for cultural clients, more authorial and experimental works, as a valuable advantage of a given design process but equally as an advantage to integrate historiographical narratives.
We need now to continue to digitally edit materials for public availability, identify the interviewees in order to record their stories, record interviews and statements that can complement objects included in the archive; identify senior graphic designers and artists in order to identify and register their work; identify entities, associations and civic movements with political action in order to collect materials in inaccessible archives and finally finish the digital platform interface design. This is a work in progress for now but we hope that in the near future it could be available for everyone and open to everyone´s contributions.
Joana Baptista Costa is a graphic designer and researcher with a PhD in Design from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto (2019). Her doctorate “The discourses of graphic design in its emergence in Portugal (1960-2000)” proposes a historiography of graphic design from discourse.
Mariana Leão is a graphic designer and researcher, continuing a PhD in Fine Artes, Comunication Design specialization, at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon, Portugal. She is also co-founder, with Joana Baptista Costa, of the Portuguese graphic design studio Joana & Mariana.