ISKRA: NON-ALIGNED DESIGN 1946–1990
An overview of the development of design at Iskra from the company’s founding in 1946 to its breakup in 1990, with emphasis on the period from 1960 to 1985.
Date of the exhibition: 12 November 2009–16 March 2010
Location: Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Architecture Museum of Ljubljana (herafter AML)
Contact: Špela Šubic
Museum administration: Peter Krečič, PhD, director
Address: Pot na Fužine 2, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Telephone: +386 1 540 97 98, +386 1 540 03 46
Fax: +386 1 540 03 44
Name: Cultural, publishing, and production group – PEKINPAH (herafter Pekinpah Association)
Contact and head: Barbara Predan, MSc
Address: Ob žici 3, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
PROJECT TEAM (MAIN TEAM)
Špela Šubic – BIO secretary and curator of industrial design, AML
Cvetka Požar – Curator of visual communications, senior curator, AML
Barbara Predan – Expert consultant and initiator of the project, Pekinpah Association
Jure Miklavc – Industrial designer and teacher at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and Design
In 2009 AML and the Pekinpah Association will prepare an overview exhibition on the development of design at the Slovene company Iskra. The selection of items presented will date from the period of the company’s founding in 1946 to the breakup of the Iskra Group in the early 1990s. Both the exhibition and the monograph will focus on the period 1960–85. The year 1960 marks the end of the integration process that ended with the founding of the Iskra Group and the company's research and development institute. The company ensured the concentration of development personnel and equipment in one place, yielding the right conditions for the development of its own know-how and its application to products. The main focus of the exhibition will be the industrial and graphic design items that resulted from Iskra's know-how and its design department’s efforts, with emphasis on technological progress.
The entire project will also mark the 30th anniversary since the launch of Iskra's internationally recognized telephone, the ETA 80, by the distinguished Slovene designer Davorin Savnik.
A SHORT HISTORY OF ISKRA
Initially a Partisan radio workshop and a small factory in Kranj, Iskra developed into one of the leading electro-technical companies in Yugoslavia. It was officially registered as a company on 8 March 1946. At the time it employed 850 workers, whereas in its heyday, the “Great Iskra” provided work for as many as 35,000 people. After 1985, social changes (the disintegration of the political system and the state) also had an impact on the economy. In the early 1990s the Iskra Group split into several independent companies, some of which successfully operate to this day. Unfortunately, the design department of Iskra's “golden age” (1960-85) no longer exists.
From the very beginning, the company was active both in the Yugoslav market and the demanding foreign market. To keep up with the quick pace of development, it increased its production capacity in two ways: by establishing new plants and factories, and by merging already existing ones. It invested in production mostly in rural areas, significantly contributing to more even development throughout Slovenia. Its basic product range was systems and system components for integrated telecommunications, information technology, cybernetics and robotics, as well as industrial process management and control, energy production, transport and environmental protection. Because of its own development and production of components and integrated circuits, it ambitiously participated in international business. Its managers believe that it tackled difficult tasks with “environmentally friendly and energy efficient production of high-quality products for the Yugoslav and foreign markets.” Consequently it is not a coincidence that Iskra defined itself as “a knowledge producer.” In a close synergy of research and development, production and the market, during its “golden age” the company rivalled the largest electronics producers in the world.
Since the 1950s Slovene design has been marked largely by individuals whose excellence has been recognised and received awards from the international design community. The Iskra Group was foremost among the handful of companies that systematically developed and promoted industrial design.
In the early 1970s Iskra was the largest Slovene electro-mechanics, telecommunications, electronics and automation company. It excelled in industrial design of telephones, measuring instruments and electric tools. One of the major indicators of the design excellence of these products was the exhibition Iskra Shows the Way to Yugoslav Design, which was presented at the Stuttgart Design Centre in the summer of 1971. One of its key aims was to draw attention to the Yugoslav counterpart of the German company Braun, which at the time was a leader in technology and design. The exhibition presented how the modular systems of measuring devices were made, laser dynamic graphics and computer-aided design of the latest telephone types.
Iskra was one of few companies with their own design department, which also formed the basis for its future orientation. But today
Iskra’s significance is largely forgotten despite the excellence of its products and many achievements.
WHY “NON-ALIGNED” DESIGN?
In 1948 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the Republic of Slovenia, today an EU member state, was one of its constituent parts) stood up to Stalin and – despite having a communist system that the West considered “heretical” – cooperated with the United States and Western Europe during the time when the world was divided into two blocs. It loudly criticised the Warsaw Pact and NATO, and offered a third possibility: the Non-Aligned Movement. Yugoslavia was regarded as the most progressive among European communist countries, but its demise after the fall of the Berlin Wall was the most tragic of all.
The former state’s legacy is considerable, but unfortunately it remains hidden in archives in Slovenia and abroad: it is neglected and remains “non-aligned” on the map of European and world design. This seemingly unusual title therefore draws attention to important design achievements in Eastern and Central Europe and its quality, which should be featured in all textbooks on the history of design.
IMPORTANCE OF THE PROJECT
The aim of the exhibition and accompanying programme is to draw attention to the high quality of design achieved and maintained at Iskra for many years. Following detailed research into the development of design in Slovenia, a scholarly study will be written to evaluate and preserve the memory of the extremely important history of an activity that has defined our everyday environment. One of the key aims of the project is further promotion, and staging the exhibition in various European design centres with a view to presenting design that was born behind the Iron Curtain. During his lecture at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana in March 2008, Professor Dieter Rams (Braun’s chief designer at the time) stressed that Iskra had been an important partner for the German company Braun. As a related industry, it had opened the door between the European East and West. Re-examining the company’s legacy, an overlooked chapter from recent history, thus seems a step in the right direction.
ARTISTIC MERIT AND QUALITY
The high quality of design is evident from its many international and national awards (over 130 international awards). Here, only the most important international awards are listed, which Iskra's designers received for several years in a row for various products: IF, die Gute Industrieform, Hannover, Germany; LGA Zentrum Form, Stuttgart, Germany; EUROSTAR for packaging, Paris, France; Biennial of Industrial Design, Ljubljana, Slovenia; and Dobre formi, International Fair, Brno, Czech Republic.
Despite recognitions in Slovenia and abroad, Iskra's products have mostly been presented only at fairs and group exhibitions, whereas magazine and newspaper articles offer only fragmentary information. So far no expert evaluation has been carried out.
The Iskra project has the following objectives:
To present the beginnings of industrial design in Slovenia
To present the innovative attitudes and operation of a company that, despite a communist system, managed to create conditions, services and products that could compete with the best of the “capitalist” world
To present an important chapter in industrial design heritage of the recent past
To create an overview (touring) exhibition of industrial and graphic design items
To produce a scholarly monograph (in Slovene and English)
To create a website for the exhibition
To publish accompanying promotional printed material: invitation, leaflet, poster
The project will enable us to take stock of works by the Iskra department of design. The exhibition will be based on two groups of finished products: business equipment (e.g. telecommunications and computer science, measuring and regulatory devices) and electronics for the general market (e.g. entertainment, household appliances and electric tools). This facilitates the classification into different product groups. The exhibition will also feature printed materials that were an integral part of the promotion of Iskra products and other company activities. Selected Iskra products will be presented on a timeline together with other key products and individuals from international circles. This will clearly define the position and significance of Iskra not only in the context of the past, but also in the light of its present-day legacy.
These objectives will result in a presentation of documentation, which will be gathered in a single place for the first time and which will clearly show the development, evaluate the results and establish criteria for the future development of Slovene design. One of the main goals is to show Slovenes and foreigners alike that Iskra played a unique role and had a great influence on the perception of design in an emerging society. As the exhibition will undoubtedly show, Iskra's role and influence were not limited only to Yugoslavia.
Iskra: Non-Aligned Design 1946–1990
Barbara Predan and Cvetka Požar
Design Barbara Šušteršič and Jure Miklavc
Paperback: 144 pages Publisher: Architecture Museum of Ljubljana and Pekinpah Association (12 November 2009)
Price: 28 Eur
Peter Krečič, Pointing the Way
It will soon be forty years since the international event known as the Biennial of Industrial Design, or BIO (Bienale industrijskega oblikovanja), having contended with great difficulties after its third instalment in 1968, came back to life in 1971 with the BIO 4 exhibition. While it is true that the handful of enthusiasts who had done
their best to revive this almost totally incapacitated event had to be satisfied at the time with something that was merely domestic - a Yugoslav BIO 4 - the event possessed a strong body of work at its core that even in its presentation was sharply distinct from the rest of the show: this was a separate section devoted to the design achievements of Iskra. Already enormous, this company had with confidence claimed such a privileged place in the Biennial thanks to its rapid growth in the field of electronics and the international awards it had received along the way, which were themselves the result of choosing a course of development based on industrial design. Not long before the BIO 4 show, Iskra had been featured in an exhibition at the Design Centre in Stuttgart, West Germany, which was known for its excellent presentations and prestigious awards. And the slogan of the Stuttgart show was this: ISKRA POINTS THE WAY. In those years the socialist countries of the predominantly Eastern Bloc, with their technologically backward products of unexceptional design, would not have dared to imagine anything like this. But Yugoslavia through Slovenia - and Slovenia through Iskra - did.
Few today remember the events of those times or the genuine successes Iskra enjoyed on the world stage. But in Slovenia we should remember them. For Iskra demonstrated that even in unfavourable and discouraging business conditions, such as existed in Yugoslavia, it was possible to achieve a great deal and reach the top ranks in one of the most demanding cultural and business disciplines - the discipline of industrial design. Iskra’s example, of course, has its academically grounded importance in the historiography of design, but we should not overlook its mobilizing potential either: even today, in many areas of the economy, much, much more could be achieved, in particular, by recognizing a systematic policy with regard to design. And why do I now mention in the same breath our own Biennial of Industrial Design, in whose framework this remarkable exhibition was conceived? For nearly two decades after its resuscitation, the Biennial remained a regular forum for presenting Iskra’s achievements, and through the apparatus it had at its disposal, with its documentation and catalogues and a good network of excellent staff and supporters, it has preserved these achievements in the
On behalf of the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, I would like to thank the creators of the exhibition and those who contributed texts for the book about Iskra: Barbara Predan, Špela Šubic, Cvetka Požar and Jonathan M. Woodham. Special thanks go to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology for its kind support of the project.
Špela Šubic, The Best of Slovene Design from Iskra
Jonathan M. Woodham
Post-1945 Industrial Design Perspectives: Slovenia and Iskra in a Changing World
The problems in understanding the implications of industrial design processes and practices in social, cultural, economic and educational terms in non-aligned Yugoslavia after the Second World War nave been discussed by a number of design historians and theorists. However, it must be remembered that international acceptance of the principles of industrial design was extremely variable in terms of its reception by manufacturing industry. In the same period, the term 'industrial design' was increasingly understood to mean the involvement of design throughout the whole process of bringing goods into being, that is, from the planning and conception of products through to their manufacture and distribution. Even as late as 1940 in the USA, it was stated by Harold Van Doren, a leading design authority and one of the first generation of American industrial designers, that the majority of American manufacturers remained unconvinced by, or even unaware of, the potential value of design as a business tool. Nor was the nascent industrial design profession strongly embedded in industry at national level in most other countries as it still lacked the social and economic status enjoyed by engineers, lawyers and other chartered professions; to many manufacturers it simply represented an additional expense. Additionally, although there were many longstanding national design societies that had some relationship with industry, in reality they were generally more concerned with the applied arts rather than industrial design, wavering between handicraft and mass-production technology, and were typified by such organizations as the Svenska Slöjdföreningen (Swedish Society of Crafts and Industrial Design, established 1845) or the Design and Industries Association (DIA, established 1915) in Britain. However, in order to assist in the struggle to win new markets in the economically competitive climate after the Second World War, a significant number of new associations and professional bodies were founded in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Slovenian Designers Society / Društvo Oblikovalcev Slovenije, founded in 1951. (excerpt)
An Overlooked Giant
Iskra's Corporate Graphic Identity and Constructing the Iskra Brand
Cvetka Požar, Barbara Predan
A Chronology of Significant Events in the History of the Iskra Company
Barbara Predan, Cvetka Požar
Product Groups in the Exhibition
A Selection of Iskra's Industrial and Graphic Design Works and
Selected Films about Iskra
A Selected Bibliography
EXHIBITION PLANNERS’ PROFILES
Špela Šubic, BA (b. 1968), Art historian, graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Department of Art History with a thesis on Video Art in Slovenia. During her studies she worked at the Jakopič Gallery (Jakopičeva galerija) as a curator assistant and archivist (1987–92); at the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna galerija; 1992–4)) and as a teacher of art history at the Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (1991). Now she is a senior curator at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, and Secretary General of the Biennial of Industrial Design. She collected data on Slovenian video artists for SCCA, later published in the catalogue Videodokument (1999). In addition to her work in the archives of the well-known Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, whose original drawings are kept at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, she organized several events to promote the museum and Plečnik's collection. She wrote articles on the history of architecture for Slovenski veliki leksikon (Slovenian Encyclopaedia) published by Mladinska knjiga (final volume issued 2005) and articles on Slovenian designers for The Design Encyclopedia by Mel Byars, published by MOMA (2004). Since 2002 she has organized and curated exhibitions on industrial design, including the regular international Biennial of Industrial Design (BIO). She is an active member of the Bureau of European Design Associations (BEDA) and organizer of international events for design organizations (e.g. BEDA General Assemblies and Board Meetings, ICOGRADA Board Meeting, and Regional Meetings on Design Support). BIO is also a member of ICSID. As an internationally recognized institution, the BIO Secretariat has been a relevant partner in projects of similar institutions worldwide, such as APCI (Agence pour la promotion de la création industrielle), EIDD – Design for All (European Institute for Design and Disability) and to most national design institutions worldwide.
Cvetka Požar, BA (b. 1970), Art historian, senior curator at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, where she manages the Department of Visual Communications. She was the organizer and curator of several exhibitions at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana, including being the curator of the exhibition and the author of the catalogue To the Polling Booths! The Poster as a Political Medium in Slovenia 1945–1999, the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana (2000); and the co-curator of the exhibition New Objectivity in Slovene Photography, Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana (1998). She participated as a selector of the Slovenian graphical designers participating at the exhibition Manifesto! Supportera il terzo millennio, Luigi Bailo Civic Museum, Treviso, Italy, 2002. From 1999 to 2008 she was the editor-in-chief of the Slovene review Fotografija (Photography). She was the organizer of the lecture series “Architectural Epicentres 2006/2007” and co-editor, with Petra Čeferin, of the book Architectural Epicentres: Inventing Architecture, Intervening in Reality (2008). At the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana, Department of Design she is preparing a doctoral thesis on the development of the poster in 20th-century Slovenia.
Barbara Predan, MSc (b. 1974), Representative and Head of the Pekinpah Association
Received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the theory and development of design from the Department of Design, Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation at the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts, through the University of Nova Gorica, under the supervision of Professors Jelica Šumič Riha (SRC SASA) and Jonathan M. Woodham (University of Brighton, U.K.). She is the co-author, with Tanja Berčon, of the book Nazaj k oblikovanju - Antološki pregled teorije oblikovanja v slovenskem prostoru (Back to Design: An Anthological Survey of Design Theory in Slovenia), published in 2007 by the publishing house Litera and the Pekinpah Association as part of the series Nova znamenja (New Signs). In 2005, she received official status as a critic from the Ministry of Culture. She publishes articles on design in the magazines Klik and MM, as well as in the newspaper Dnevnik. In 2005, along with seven other specialists, she co-edited a special section on the role of design in society, for the journal Časopis za kritiko znanosti. Her article “Mapping Design Theory in Slovenia” appeared in the American theoretical journal Design Issues. In 2008 she created and organized a lecture series on the theory of design called “Sustainable Alternatives in Design,” supported by the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana and under the aegis of the Pekinpah Association. The lectures will be published in book form in the first half of 2009.
Jure Miklavc, BFA (industrial design; b. 1970)
He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Ljubljana, (in industrial design, 1986). Since then, he has worked as a freelance product designer with Barbara Šušteršič in their studio. He works as a permanent industrial designer for the entire range of ski boots and cross-country boots for Alpina. He is also a tutor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, Industrial Design Department. His work on the Alpina ECS and ECL Ski-boots received the Red Dot Award in 2008.
Other awards: Best Souvenir of Slovenia 1995; Prešeren Student Award 1996; Good Design Award - BIO 15, 1996 (Biennial of Industrial Design); DIDA 2001 (Delo Design Award); Gold Medal - BIO 18, 2002; Best Slovenian Designer of the Year 2004; Letter opener ArtHur sold to MOMA San Francisco
Exhibitions: 17th ICSID Ljubljana, 18th and 19th ICSID (Small&Special) Glasgow and Taiwan, BIO 13 (Biennial of Industrial Design, Ljubljana), BIO 14, BIO 15, BIO 16, BIO 17, BIO 18, BIO 19, Talum - Design in Aluminum 1995, IDCO - Alpinum 1992, IDCO - Calendar 1993, Expo 98 - Lisbon, Tendence - Frankfurt 98, ISPO 2001-2005 Munich, ISPO 2002 Munich, Exhibition at the Ivan Grohar Gallery - Škofja Loka 2002, Design Perspectives at Design Museum/London 2004, BIO19 - Exhibition Alpina Oblikovanje-Design 1969-2004 at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia/Ljubljana 2004, Exhibition Re:Design Berlin 2005
The Architecture Museum of Ljubljana (AML)
The Architecture Museum of Ljubljana (AML) is a public institution founded by the City of Ljubljana in 1972. Functions within the public service activity of the museum include recording, collecting, documenting and inventorying, storing, arranging and presenting material from architecture, urban planning, industrial, graphic and one-off design, photography and movable monuments. The AML offers the public the opportunity to learn more about architecture, urban planning, design and photography through its exhibitions, lectures and publications. We cooperate with specialist organizations covering specific areas of museum and cultural work.
The Pekinpah Association
The Pekinpah Association focuses on: research and educational activities, organization and production of exhibitions, lectures, congresses and other public events, research into new media and information practices. The main reason for establishing an association was to promote and carry out activities regarding theory and theoretical work, which is often disregarded in Slovenia in comparison with practical work, as the latter is visually attractive and appealing to the professional, media and lay public.