Curating the History of Lithuanian Design
Keywords:Lithuanian design, curatorship, discourse, memory, city branding
The article investigates the history of Lithuanian design by using the material from the curatorial design exhibitions that took place since the late 20th century to this day. The aim is to underly the importance of curatorship for the construction of narratives of the local design history and to critically analyze the reception of design exhibitions in relation to the challenges of the contemporary politics of memory. The scrutinized exhibitions include Art Deco in Lithuania (1998), Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 (2009), Modernization. Baltic Art, Architecture, and Design. 1960s-70s (2011), Our Metamorphic Futures. Design, Technical Aesthetics and experimental architecture in Soviet Union 1960-1980 (2011), Art Deco in Kaunas 1919-1940: The Feeling of Home (2015), Stories of Things. Lithuanian Design 1918-2018, Applied Arts and Design. 1918-2018, and Lithuania. London. 1968. The Odyssey of Lithuanian Design (all 2018). They all played a key role in putting together the corpus from the most important artifacts further explored by design historians, while also establishing the new and revisiting the old art historical discourses, participating in the most recent debates on memory, and even contributing to contemporary city branding. The curatorship of design exhibitions involved the use of various strategies and theoretical approaches: the expansion of the notion of design in accordance with the specific conditions of its functioning in a particular locality; good knowledge of the context of topical research on the history of international design; attention to the Lithuanian design relations in both the West and the East; integration of social, economic, technological and cultural factors into the analysis of design production and distribution; openness to the dialogue between the ‘grand’ and ‘small’ narratives; decanonisation of the notion of an exceptional artifact (the traditional object of design research); construction of the pool of ‘imaginary’ design with the help of various means of reconstruction as well as conceptual exhibition architecture; and, last but not least, openness of these exhibitions to the new aspects of research, supplementary knowledge and interpretations. All of that stimulated writing the history of Lithuanian design in the 21st c. The retrospective trajectories apparent in the reception of design exhibitions (revisionism, nostalgia, and instrumentalisation) brought up the importance of their curatorship and public presentation, especially when we aim to facilitate the critical relation towards the ‘imagery of the past’ and preserve its living memory as heritage.