WUS Austria implementation of the course “Design and Culture” a political, social and cultural regenerator, 2016-9

“Design and Crisis” is a teaching course at the Department of Textile Design of the University of Bihać, that won the PATTERNS Lectures Award in 2016 and had its official premiere in the summer semester 2017. With more than twenty guest lectures, several roundtables, symposiums, public presentations, exhibitions, design open calls and diverse public actions, Design and Crisis was able to transform the academic and cultural landscape in the city of Bihać, involving public institutions, artists, designers, educators, activists, and others. From the recent point of view, Design and Crisis overfulfilled its own expectations by several involved actors and articulated impact in the academy and society. Several publications and videos were published, and a pledge for the booming and comprehensive approach Design and Crisis could have at the local and regional level.

How the course began

The trigger for designing the syllabus for Design and Crisis emerged out of necessity to critically reflect upon the dynamic industrial past and out of the practical reason, when back in the 1970s the Department of Textile Design was founded for the sake of local textile industrial production. The fact that the Department of Textile Design still exists, while the textile industry completely vanished several decades ago, is an intriguing moment for discursive reflection upon the subject. The Department of Textile Design was established in the year 1978 with a mission to train and produce a professional workforce for the local textile industry giant “Kombiteks”. “Kombiteks” employed over 2,000 people and was one of the largest textiles and clothing producers in this part of the Balkans, exporting its products worldwide from USA to Asia. Over the years, the Department of Textile Design grew into a mini-institution, the only one of its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while “Kombiteks” – along with many other state-owned companies from the socialist period – gradually dissolved in the new economic climate of privatisation schemes, which ensued quickly after the 1990s war. The agency that gave birth to the department and motivated its growth, disappeared along with its production capacities. At the moment there is a gap between the existence of the institute and the non-existence of its founder. Many open questions loom in this new landscape and there is a visible lack of critical approaches focused on this fragment of the industrial and design past of the country. Today, the Department of Textile Design is a multidisciplinary educational program for textile designers and unique in the whole country. The content of its curruculum implies technical and engineering knowledge, artistic and design creativity, and critical approach from the perspective of human and social sciences. The course Design and Crisis attempts to cover all mentioned fields.

The updated curriculum

In the last few decades, since an important update of the institute’s curriculum, a strong impact of social and human sciences has been present. Courses such as Art History, Modern Art and Design History, Design and Form Theory, and History of Textiles, are core of the critical studies of the Institute. Similar topics such as the proposed course Design and Crisis has been held within the curriculum of the Institute but were fragmented and spread through mentioned courses. Moreover, some research projects held by the Institute were partially bound to the content of the course Design and Crisis, such as a project realised at the University of Michigan (USA) in 2015, called “Image of Crisis” (lecturer Irfan Hošić) focusing at the artistic, design and cultural strategies in the postindustrial landscape of the city of Detroit (Michigan, USA). The relation to the profile of the city of Detroit was inspired by its kinship and postindustrial flows that took place from the late 1960s.

The course “Image of Crisis” showed its potential to perform as a most dynamic course at the Department of Textile Design, acting as the basis to present the core of the Institute’s curriculum which affirms inter- and multidisciplinary aspects of the Institute. The diversity of topics and the variety of visiting lecturers gave a big opportunity to implement new teaching strategies and modern, critically accented teaching methods. The course acted as a bounding media between different scientific and artistic fields such as technical sciences and engineering, design and arts, and critical studies and humanities. 

The main aim of the course was to detect, analyse and catalogue design practices in the late socialist, post-socialist and post-industrial landscape of ex-Yugoslav countries with particular focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region of the city of Bihać. By developing awareness about the regional design history and taking the point for critical questions on the local social and cultural context, the course pays attention to the inventive and successful design projects from 1989 onward, emphasising the difficult and failed transition from and industrial to a crisis-shaped environment of most Yugoslav countries. The course attempted to provide initiatives within creative cultural and art industries and to prepare students to think in the new ways, to educate them to become active citizens, and to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed in the new economic climate. This course also tried to discuss critical issues on regional design education and questions of how educational institutions can re-define their role in the post-industrial landscapes and without substantial industrial support. The agencies that gave birth to the most of design teaching institutes across the ex-country, such as the Department of Textile Design in Bihać, and that motivated their growth, disappeared along with its production capacities. At the moment there is a gap between the existence of the design institutes and the non-existence of their founders. Rethinking design between its pragmatic value and arts, could serve as possibility of developing various types of new, socially responsible, sustainable, and eco-friendly local design practices.

The purpose of the course was to reflect recent design production and strategies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its neighbouring countries with the design production of the industrial society of socialist Yugoslavia. It tried to address a set of questions linked to the historical perspective related to design and crisis in a wider social context.

Some course outcomes

In the aftermath of the first iteration of the course in spring 2017, several important steps toward documentation of its content had been done. Besides keeping virtually archived almost all guest lectures in the form of video recordings, the video-reportage Design and Crisis was released in January 2019, covering the project in-depth. Also, two books were published – “Design and Crisis” (ISBN 978-9958-30-475-0) containing research papers of ten authors from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia; and “Artefacts of a Future Past” (ISBN 978-9926-8381-2-6) as a catalogue of the same-named exhibition from 2017. The publication “Design and Crisis is a compilation of papers that outline the position, role, and significance of industrial design in specific circumstances accompanied by social breakups, social discontinuities and political disruptions. A focus is on the volatile region of the Western Balkans, which has been, in the last several decades, the scene of different mutually opposed and conceptually disharmonious economic developments – from a self-government type of socialism in the second half of the 20th century, through the war-related profiteering and humanitarianism during the 1990s, to the liberal capitalism today. On the other hand, the exhibition catalogue “Artefacts of a Future Past” was produced three years after the realisation of the eponymous exhibition and at a moment, when the space where the exhibition was held, the Kombiteks Workers’ Club, experienced a completely different destiny. After years of neglect and after several prompt discursive actions organised in this space in recent years, the Council of the City of Bihać handed the premises of the Club to the Revizor Foundation to open the Center for Contemporary Culture called KRAK. This course of events is exceptionally interesting and, in addition to its catalogue and documentation dimensions, it has granted the publication the character of a manifesto for the future Center. It is the best way for interpreting the works that were exhibited there in March 2017. What was on the horizon of expectation in the process of conceptualising the organisation and set-up of the exhibition has become today, three years later, an integral part of immediate experience, because the most important impact the PATTERNS Lectures course Design and Crisis made out of the classroom is the transformation of the aforementioned Club into the Center for Contemporary Culture.

Contemporary culture KRAK

PATTERNS Lectures was a program running from 2008 to 2017 to support the development of new university courses in the fields of artistic research, art history, cultural theory, and cultural studies. Its focus was on new artistic and activist practices, new social movements, and their significance for recent cultural history in Central and South Eastern Europe (CEE). The program stressed critical methodology as well as innovative and interactive teaching practices. It encouraged international academic exchange by enabling lecturers to go on study visits and offered guest lectures by international colleagues.

PATTERNS Lectures supported courses that critically analysed the period from the 1960s to the present day, dealt with cultural phenomena including aspects of popular, marginal and counterculture, or examined interdisciplinary and cross-cultural history in Central and South Eastern Europe.

PATTERNS Lectures was initiated by ERSTE Foundation and implemented by World University Service (WUS) Austria. The course described above was one of 12 selected by WUS Austria for finding in the year 2016-2017. WUS Austria was in charge of the organization and implementation of the course which was delivered by Dr Hošić.

Author profile
Irfan Hošic

Irfan Hošic completed his PhD at the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb in 2011. He was Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the College for Creative Studies and Wayne State University in Detroit (2019/2020) and a post-doctoral researcher at the Ghent University (2013-2014). He is founder and artistic director of the Center for Contemporary Culture KRAK in Bihac in 2020. He teaches Art History and Modern Art and Design at the Textile Department at the University of Bihac.