Seminar | 25 Jan | Tropenmuseum

Design and/as Translation: Globalising Design Histories?

The seminar ‘Design and/as Translation: Globalising Design Histories?' will focus on considering design as a ‘translation term’ in an exchange between the design/art museum and the ethnographic museum. How and why have material objects been presented and valued differently in these different institutes?

In the past decades, many scholars within the humanities have diversified their views, scope and methodologies in an attempt to escape and overthrow Eurocentrism and ‘globalize’ their disciplines. Yet, can we speak of a ‘global turn’ within design histories? According to design historian Daniel Huppatz, the project of global design histories ‘remains in its infancy’ (Huppatz, 2015). The goal of the seminar is to understand how design has operated as a mechanism for inclusion and exclusion and what the comparison between these two traditionally separated institutions may contribute to ‘globalizing’ design. This seminar aims to bring together practitioners and researchers from different institutes and backgrounds.

By approaching design as a ‘translation term’, (Clifford 1991) it becomes clear that the term ‘design’ – which in the design museum has a very specific usage – falls apart when considered from a global perspective. Design considered as a form of translation allows us to see it as a (historic) construction reflecting and performing hegemonic power relationships. Considering design as translation thus destabilizes modern design’s claims for universality but also encourages curiosity for what has not been considered ‘design’.

For this seminar we will specifically look at the two – traditionally separated – institutions that have collected, preserved and displayed objects; the art/design museum and the ethnographic museum. What can these institutions learn from each other and how could comparing the different strategies employed further ‘global design’? How have non-Western objects historically been included or excluded into Western museum collections? How can the interaction between the different institutions, their views and research perspectives, enrich museum collections, displays and exhibitions? What are the differences in terms of presentation, representation, authorship and reception? How could we employ design as a strategy for future material culture collections?

Three lectures will introduce globalisation and raise questions after which smaller group sessions will discuss more specific matters concerning collecting, presenting, research and theory. These will serve as a preliminary investigation leading to a more in-depth symposium on global design history and museums in 2018.


13:15  Introduction by Dr. Frederike Huygen
           (Dutch Design History Society/Designgeschiedenis Nederland)

13:20  Introduction by Prof. dr. Wayne Modest: In Translation: The Ethnographic Museum & Design
           (Head of the Research Center for Material Culture)

13:40  Rosa te Velde: Global(izing) Design Histories, Literature & Methodologies 
​           (Freelance Design Researcher)

14:00  Keynote by Dr. Sarah Teasley: Museums, Exhibitions and the Framing of Design
​           (Head of Programme History of Design at the Royal College of Art)

15:00  Break

15:20  Group discussions

16:00  Moderated Discussion

16:20  Concluding Remarks

16:30  End of the seminar

Museums, Exhibitions and the Framing of Design

In her keynote, Teasley will draw on research into postwar American exhibitions of Japanese artefacts to explore how the framing devices afforded by modern cultural and economic practices and sites such as the museum, participatory public culture and design for capitalism allow actors within these systems to categorise and present artefacts as at once domestic, exotic, modern, design, craft and ethnographic. She will argue that the slippery, multivalent nature of the artefact within classification systems and power relations both enables canny actors to achieve particular agendas through categorisation and display, and renders any complete closure of meaning impossible. The keynote will end with a short speculation on how the materiality of current design practice - from the participatory and social to the digital interactive - might or might not affect this relationship.

This seminar is organised by the Research Center for Material Culture and the Dutch Design History Society.

About the event

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 13:00 to 16:30
Tropenmuseum Studio, Linnaeusstraat 2, Amsterdam


Ninja Rijnks-Kleikamp
Coordinator Research Center for Material Culture