Global Arts and Cultures

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Victor Papanek: Design, Ecology, and Global Activism


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center/RISD Museum

The division of Liberal Arts, THAD department and RISD Museum welcome author and design historian Alison Clarke to RISD to give a lecture titled “Victor Papanek: Design, Ecology and Global Activism.”In 1968, Papanek described the design profession as a mode of “do-it-yourself murder” that generates waste, wreaks ecological havoc and excludes the most socially disadvantaged. Design, he warned, had become preoccupied with “the concocting of such inane trivia as mink-covered toilet-seats, electronic fingernail polish dryers and baroque fly-swatters,” rather than solving “real world” needs.

Based on the forthcoming book Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World (MIT Press) and research for a recent co-curated exhibition with the Vitra Design Museum, Germany, the lecture will explore how Papanek’s iconoclastic designs, provocative journalism and unique global pedagogic initiatives upended the complacency of the 1960s and '70s design establishment. Clarke will examine how this shift in the perception of design as a political tool was part of a broader challenge to commodity culture that drew on feminist and counter-culture ideas of non-capitalist production, African-American civil rights and global post-colonial activism, and a burgeoning ecological movement. She will conclude by examining the legacy of Papanek’s ideas in contemporary design discourse.

This event is sponsored by the Division of Liberal Arts graduate programs in Global Arts and Cultures and Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies in conjunction with the RISD Museum's Repair and Design Futures Exhibition and RISD Global.

Alison Clarke

Alison J. Clarke is a design historian and trained social anthropologist. She is chair of Design History and Theory and Director of the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna, and taught previously at the Royal College of Art, London. Professor Clarke’s publications include Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America, which became the basis of an Emmy Award nominated PBS documentary, Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (2017), and Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture (with Elana Shapira, 2017). She is currently completing a monograph for MIT Press titled Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World, as well as co-curating a related exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum, Germany.