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RCA Researchers Explore Global Design Histories at CAA Annual Conference

Dr Hui-Ying Kerr, who was awarded her History of Design PhD from the RCA last year, and current History of Design PhD candidate Rebecca Bell are chairing the Design History Society Affiliated Panel at the College Art Association (CAA) 106th Annual Conference, taking place 21–24 February in Los Angeles. The panel, 'Imagining the International: Repositioning Peripheral Narratives in Global Design Histories', was selected through a competition run by the Design History Society and will explore peripheral narratives in global design history, welcoming re-examinations of methods through which post-war cultural practices negotiate ideas of centrality.

‘Hui-Ying Kerr and Rebecca Bell’s panel indicates the kind of vibrant, powerful research emerging from V&A/RCA History of Design,’ commented Dr Sarah Teasley, Head of V&A/RCA History of Design and Reader in Design History and Theory. ‘The programme has a longstanding commitment to writing design’s global histories: to destabilising established narratives, to questioning power structures within them and to suggesting other, more ethical and ultimately more accurate ways of seeing design history. We’re delighted to see that they are taking this work to Los Angeles, to connect with others engaged in this necessary work.'

Two contrasting economic and political models were starting points for the panel, the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986–91), which was the setting of Ying’s doctoral research and Socialist Czechoslovakia (1948–89), the focus of Rebecca’s PhD. The panel will address the role of individual subversion and tension within official design hierarchies, and demonstrate the vital role design historians play in re-evaluating hierarchies of globalised histories and claims to cultural centrality.

‘During our years as PhD researchers at the RCA, Ying and I have always shared concerns around the role of local and individual agency in relation to larger, international structures of dominance or power in craft and design’ Rebecca explained. ‘The panel is a chance to expand this dialogue, bringing in excellent researchers who share an interest in explorations of cultural identity, political and temporal ownership of traditional practices, and a desire to challenge hegemonic ideals in design.’

The panellists include Magali An Berthon, a current History of Design PhD candidate who will deliver a paper on the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles in Cambodia and Di Liu, who graduated from MA History of Design in 2016 and now works for the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong, who will present a paper on the Ming chair in relation to the hegemony of Western design narrative.

Discussing the panel Ying said: ‘Through our research at the RCA, Rebecca and I have come to appreciate the importance of the international in understanding design history, not just as a network of transnational flows, but also as individual narratives and agencies within it that affect the whole as much as they are affected. In focusing on histories from outside the dominant narrative and their interactions with the international, this panel is an opportunity to challenge and re-centre perceptions of essential otherness in global design history.’

Following the panel Ying will take this research forward through a networking event, which will gather participants from the RCA History of Design programme, V&A, Design History Society, Colombia University and Nottingham Trent University.

The CAA Annual Conference is a leading platform for academics to disseminate research, test ideas, meet with peers and make new connections. This year there will be over 300 sessions with an anticipated 4,000 attendees. Ying will also present a paper at the session, 'Sport, Fitness and Wellbeing in Art History', discussing how women used sporting leisure to redefine themselves in the Japanese Bubble Economy, which is based on her PhD research.

Other RCA speakers at the conference include Dorothy Armstrong, who graduated from MA History of Design in 2014. She will be taking part in the session 'Art, Agency, and the Making of Identities at a Global Level, 1600–2000, Part I' and will discuss Pakistan’s repossession of the imaginary and production of the oriental carpet. RCA Senior Tutor in Contemporary Art Practice Professor Johnny Golding will be joining 'Cities as Labs for Innovation Tackling Global Challenges: Transdisciplinarity and the Future of the University': a round-table discussion chaired by Alan Boldon, University of Brighton and Ruth West, University of North Texas.


Find out more about the V&A/RCA History of Design MA programme and MPhil/PhD Arts & Humanities and how to apply.

Full details fo the CAA Annual Conference can be found on their website.

Design History Society
Design History Society