Exceptional Typicality: Craft and Design in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1948–68
My thesis proposes the idea that between 1948 and 1968, State design and applied art in Czechoslovakia constantly sought to deliver a balance between the exceptional and typical, creating a line of continuity despite changing political epochs under Communism. Through self-critical awareness around possibilities for craft, applied art and design, members of the cultural industries in Czechoslovakia during the early Communist period constantly sought to define objects via a spectrum of meaning between those traits that could be called individual or creative, and those deemed acceptable socialist types. In so doing they kept active a legacy of Czech discourse that continued from both before 1948 and up until 1968. Such a pursuit can be seen via the ways in which theorists and makers leant heavily on the values of folk and modernist art, craft and applied art to locate forms suitable for State-supported production.
The legacy of international trade fairs in the second half of the twentieth century still casts the biggest shadow in terms of Anglo-American knowledge and understanding of art and design in Czechoslovakia. Art glass and its overlaps with studio glass in the UK and America, and the influence of organisations such as the Corning Museum of Glass, mean that rich studies of this field have been covered in English language publications (Petrova: 2001; Ricke: 2005). Smaller scale works in glass, industrial objects and ventures into ceramics, furniture and interiors are less chartered territories. Czech scholarship is making huge dents into writing about applied arts this period, in particular from a theoretical perspective (Hubatová-Vacková, Pachmanová, Pečínková: 2014; Bartlová, Vybíral et al: 2015), but there is little in English. I wish to add to the English-language scholarship that enriches the field beyond art glass.
I follow in the footsteps of specialists writing about the Soviet Union with a particular emphasis on design, applied art, craft and connections to folk culture, as a means of understanding post-war modernism, socialist aims and the context of everyday and official spaces for objects. These include Svetlana Boym on everyday objects in Russia (1994); David Crowley on Stalinism and Modernist craft in Poland (1998); Deema Kaneff on the politics of time and folk traditions in Bulgaria (2004); Juliet Kinchin on Hungarian ceramics and the politics of craft (2009); Nicolette Makovicky on craft and modernity in relation to lace Slovakia (2009); and Greg Castillo on design for the home as soft power in East Germany (2010). I hope to add to their English-language discussion by bringing Czechoslovakia further into the foreground.
My case studies range from glass figurines from the 1950s, social housing interiors from the 1960s, film, hotels, and animation.
School of Arts & Humanities
History of Design, 2010–
Rebecca Bell’s research interests include design and craft in Czechoslovakia, contemporary design and craft theory, and contemporary art commissioning. Rebecca is currently researching a PhD in Czechoslovakian design and craft under Communism in the 1950s and 1960s on the Royal College of Art and V&A History of Design programme, with supervisors Professor David Crowley and Professor Jane Pavitt.
After completing a degree in History of Art (First Class) at the University of Glasgow, Rebecca carried out an AHRC-funded MPhil in Czech Modernist visual art in Glasgow, looking at the ways in which objects have been represented in Anglo-American publications and exhibitions during the twentieth century.
Rebecca currently lectures in Contextual Studies at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Middlesex. She has previously lectured at UCL, Kingston University, UMPRUM Prague and the University of Glasgow. She co-curated and chaired the Future Thinking Series at The School of Life, a set of workshops exploring contemporary design theory. Rebecca has also worked for over ten years in contemporary art commissioning, as well as galleries and museums, for Andy Goldsworthy, Art on the Underground, Sphinx Fine Art, the Design and Artist's Copyright Society, and via receiving a Scholarship with the Hunterian Gallery Glasgow.
She is also a writer for Slashstroke Magazine and member of Making Enhanced, a collective of designer makers and design historians working in pairs on the conception and production of writing, events and artefacts.
- MPhil History of Art, University of Glasgow, 2007 (AHRC Funded); MA (Hons) History of Art, First Class, University of Glasgow, 2004
- Visiting Tutor Critical & Contextual Studies, Contemporary Design Crafts, University of Hertfordshire, 2015 - current; VL History of Design, Royal College of Art, London, 2014–15; Programme Officer, Art on the Underground, London, 2008–13; Co-Curator Future Thinking Series, The School of Life, London, 2013; Artist's Resale Right Manager, Design & Artist's Copyright Society, London, 2007–08; Studio Administrator & Archivist, Andy Goldsworthy Studio, Dumfriesshire, 2004–07; Hunterian Art Gallery Scholar, Glasgow 2004
- Design History Society Travel Grant, 2014; Czech Centre London Curatorial & Travel Grant, 2013; AHRC Funding MPhil, 2005; Hunterian Scholarship, 2004
- 'Exceptional Typicality: Glass in Czechoslovakia 1948–1968', The Glass Circle, Art Workers' Guild, London, 2016; ‘Exceptional Typicality – PhD Research-in-Progress’, UMPRUM (School of Art, Architecture & Design), Prague, 2015; ‘Digital Craft – The Future of Making’, Kingston University, 2015; ‘Craft & Design Under Capitalism and Socialism in the UK and Czechoslovakia’, UCL, 2014; ‘Sounds of Design History: Podcasting, Broadcasting and Audio Research’, Design History Society, Teaching & Learning Workshop, 2014; ‘Not for Glory! Not for Gain! Commemorative Glass Figurines at the Czechoslovak Spartakiad 1955’, Design History Society Conference, Oxford University, 2014; ‘History in the Making: Experiment Invalidovna, Prague 1961’, (De)constructing Utopia: Design in Eastern Europe from Thaw to Perestroika, Sheffield University conference, 2014
- Forthcoming: 'Review of Things and Words. Art industry, applied arts and design in Czech art theory and criticism 1870–1970) at the Moravian Gallery Brno', West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Autumn Issue 2016; Project Editor for Dillon, T. (ed.) (2013) The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London Icon, London: Art/Books. Introduced by Jonathan Glancey; (2013) “Song Dong’s Waste Not and Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Art Gallery”, Home Cultures Journal, Vol. 10, Issue 1, 75-78; (2008) Essays in Russia and Europe in the Nineteenth Century, Exh. Cat., Sphinx Fine Art; (2009) ‘No Lack of Lamentation: Helen MacAlister’, Scottish Art News, The Fleming Collection, Spring Issue; (2009) ‘Alex Hamilton: The Glenfinlas Cyanotypes’, Edinburgh Festival 2008, Scottish Art News, The Fleming Collection, Spring Issue, 2009; Ongoing articles for Slashstroke Magazine, 2009–current