Glass = Finland
Glass, particularly that from the Mid-20th Century, is synonymous with Finland. Not only Finnish art glass but objects for everyday household use were amongst the most internationally exhibited, awarded & economically successful from the 1950s to 70s -a period often regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of Finnish design. Today, contemporarily made Finnish glass remains coveted by discerning consumers whilst vintage pieces are fervently hunted by collectors. Most with an interest in design will know of and/or recognise the work of Kaj Franck, Tapio Wikkala & Timo Sarpaneva. Many may even know the factories for which they worked, such as, Nuutajärvi Nötsjö and Iittala. However, less well known are the names Nanny Still, Helena Tynell, Tamara Aladin and the company for which they worked collectively for 74 years, Riihimäen Lasi Oy (Riihimäki Glass Works).
Feminist Evaluation / Why Hast Thou Forsaken Her
Still, Tynell & Aladin are not alone in their scant inclusion in design histories.
Women’s involvement in the design industry has always been woefully underrepresented in literature, exhibitions and museum collections.
Many have attempted to redress this situation by giving exclusive attention to some of the women that were able to penetrate the professional arena. However, most attempts at a women-designers approach, despite only the best intentions, ultimately propagate the prejudice that women are inferior designers except in the so called ‘feminine’ areas such as the decorative arts, textiles, interior design and fashion.
Any undertaking that aims to ‘fold’ women into design history must lay bare the ways in which women were prevented from practicing in certain areas of the design industry.
It is also necessary to expose the hierarchy related to objects which positions products of industrial design above those of say fashion.
To give preference to the study of certain types of objects is to give preference to those responsible for the design of the ‘chosen’ objects. This is problematic as the items atop the hierarchy of objects (products of industrial design and a ‘machine aesthetic’) come from the industries that women were seldom a part of.
What is then revealed is that not only have women been excluded from making based on their sex but the objects that women have succeeded in making have been dismissed based on their perceived unimportance. The design achievements of women are, therefore, twice deemed inferior to those of men: first, their designs are often overlooked and consequently their careers seem less notable and so are omitted by historians.
Failure to observe the methodological guidance above risks following in the footsteps of problematic works on ‘the history of design’ responsible for establishing a tradition of Pioneers of Modern Design –a timeline of great men.
Sigmar’s Stance / The Viewpoint of the Exhibition
This exhibition is a women-designers approach but acknowledges that when exclusively highlighting the work of women caveats must be made.
Namely, as outlined above, a women-designers approach that does not acknowledge the repression of women within the design industry and societies hierarchy of objects only serves to support prejudices, which in turn diminishes women and devalues design history as a discipline.
In short, design history cannot borrow the inappropriate methodology of the early seminal texts.
This exhibition, as design histories must, aligns itself with a feminist critique which postulates that the work of women designers needs to be assessed in the context of the history of a profession which has consistently marginalised them.