The story of coal- Constructing new markers with aesthetic intervention: the use of coal in design

Constructing new markers with aesthetic intervention: the use of coal in design

Magdalena Germek Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenia)magdalena.germek@gmail.com Graduated in Philosophy from the University of Novi Sad (Serbia) with a diploma thesis
Political Epistemology by Michel Foucault She is currently a PhD candidate at the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU). She has published articles on ontology, logic, and aesthetics in contemporary philosophy, with special emphasis on the works of Alain Badiou. Her research interests include logic of form and logic of appearance in philosophy, art and psychoanalysis.
Kristina Pranjic University of Nova Gorica (Slovenia) kristina.pranjic@ung.si
Graduated in comparative literature and Russian language and literature at the Faculty of Arts University of Ljubljana, where she defended her doctoral dissertation on the concept of pointless sound and image in the Russian avant-garde. Her main research areas are avant-garde art and literature and contemporary aesthetics. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Media (Slovenia) and an assistant professor at the College of Arts, University of Nova Gorica. She was a guest lecturer at the Alpen-Adria-Universität University of Klagenfurt in 2018-19. The paper is based on the results of an interdisciplinary project of the Faculty of Media and the Faculty of Design in Ljubljana (Slovenia) with undergraduate and graduate students in media, communication, psychology and design. , who worked under the mentorship of interdisciplinary researchers and designers. The central designer of the project was Marjeta Hribar with her innovative brand KUOLMi; she is known for her jewelry and design of coal objects in her local Zasavje, which has a rich history of industrial coal mining in Slovenia. Design as a form of visual art is an important social formation with the potential to restructure the relationship and strategies we have towards the material culture around us. In this paper, we try to contextualize the findings of the project using two theoretical approaches: first, we use the study of signs, semiology, and second, the current study of material culture. The latter is introduced through the work of the author Daniel Miller and is developed through the theoretical work of the avant-garde artist Vladimir Tatlin, who established the Department of Material Culture in the 1920s. > section id = "coal-story-project" class = "level1">

Coal Stories Project

The project was based on the idea that an important symbol of coal in the Zasavje coal mine (the towns of Zagorje, Trbovlje and Hrastnik) in Slovenia could be reconstructed through aesthetic intervention. This interdisciplinary project was implemented by the Faculty of Media and the Faculty of Design (associate member of the University of Primorska) in Ljubljana (Slovenia), and was implemented in spring and summer 2019 in collaboration with graduates and postgraduate students operated under the mentorship of interdisciplinary researchers and designers. Under the mentorship of mentors, students explored past and present stories related to the rich history of the region’s industrial coal mining. The project was inspired by a methodological approach by local individuals and organizations, such as the Trbovlje Newmedia Setting Virtual Museum of Coal Mining - 4. Dritl, dedicated to new media culture and research of intermedia art.
The main motivation of the project and the field work of the project team, was to present coal as a symbol of the past that can be restructured into a new visionary way of one’s own future. In addition to presenting the rich history of various uses of coal and researching how coal is presented in today's media as the most hated material or fossil fuel that has greatly affected human health and the environment, the central part of the project was collecting and telling personal stories of miners and young people. Zasavci, whose life and identity were shaped by coal. Project collaborators also presented examples of domestic and international design practices inspired by coal as an unconventional means of artistic expression. The results of the project were collected in an e-brochure (2019) and presented at an exhibition in May 2019 at the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum in Ljubljana. From a theoretical point of view, the project team first faced the problem of the representative value of coal in today's Zasavje. This region is one of the traditional industrial coal regions of Slovenia, which is facing high unemployment and landscape degradation processes. With coal mining, which was once the main driver of the region's development, now completely abandoned, the consequences are obvious not only in the economic sector, but in all areas of the local community where there is a belief that a new impetus for Zasavje is impossible. , as it was only suitable for mining and industry. Zasavje is also known as a polluted and unattractive region for tourists. As its most important raw material is dirty and harmful, it poses important problems for the development of tourism and creativity in the national and international context. To present the story of coal in this region in its entirety, project members first examined the history of the various uses of coal. Here they pointed out important historical facts which show that in the 17th century, before the development of coal mining, coal was used for medical purposes. The healing properties of coal have become a sign that this raw material is not only suitable for burning and heating. To this positive aspect of coal was added another constructive element gained through interviews with former miners. In these interviews, one thing was clear - for all former miners, coal was a symbol of "bread", "safety" and "hard work". This research thus revealed that coal is in fact an extremely controversial symbol, as it is a means and source of life on the one hand, and impoverishment and degradation, environmental pollution and disorientation of local youth on the other.

In the next step, the project team looked for examples of good practices in the use of coal in other areas and discovered interesting findings on the modern use of coal in art and fashion design. Especially in Slovenia, jewelry designer Marjeta Hribar uses coal in her daily creative practice of designing objects and jewelry under the KUOLMi brand, which can be found in her local Zasavje region. Marjeta Hribar's design work raised an important question on which the theoretical basis of this paper is based.

Can designing jewelry from coal restructure a negative sign of coal into a positive one, and can we say that design is a certain form of communication or a language form?

And if we understand coal only as a sign, does it not lose its concrete material value - the value that derives from its own materiality? At the same time, with the process of coal formation, it seems that it is not just a material, but becomes a special object of material culture. Below we will address these two issues of “restructuring-a-signifier-with-design” class restructuring of a marker with design
Due to the innovativeness of the project and the importance of its results, contextualization of its findings in theoretical research has become crucial. From the very beginning, the Coal Story project has been rooted in the understanding of fashion and wearable design as a complex communication system, as forms of language with their meanings, signs and markers that have a direct socio-aesthetic effect. Thus, the theoretical approach to the study of sign processes and semiology was chosen first.

The semiological approach to understanding the meaning of clothing and the fashion system stems from the Swiss linguist and semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure and his theory of sign, in which he explored patterns and functions of language and according to which "sign" consists of "signifier" and "signified" or "clerk." One of the first semioticians to explore the subject of fashion in this way was the French poststructuralist Roland Barthes in his eminent.
Fashion System (1967). In this paper, we would like to draw attention to another important academic - Malcolm Bernard, who in his book Fashion as Communication (1996) explains some of the most influential and important theories about fashion. In the fourth chapter, entitled "Fashion, Clothing, and Meaning," he used the definition of de Saussure's theory of signs for fashion and clothing design. In this chapter, Bernard presented fabrics and clothing as special characters that can be analyzed as markers that represent or represent something other than themselves. A man's collar, for example, indicates informality when open and without a tie.


The semiological approach also allows the use of a chain of markers on the various elements and fabrics from which garments are made. Thus, wool tweed can show “rusticity and countryside”, while high-quality shoe yarn can show sophistication and urbanity.
However, if we take fashion objects and wearable form as signs that articulate meaning, then it is also possible to determine their denotational and connotative meanings. Denotation refers to a generally accepted meaning that is commonly found in lexical interpretation and does not differ significantly between different cultures and languages. Connotation represents another level of meaning that can be described as thoughts or feelings triggered by a word or image, "or as associations that a word or image has for someone."

For Malcolm Bernard "[t] Understanding connotation is an intersubjective and hermeneutical matter." The author writes how surprising it is that people of the same age and culture express almost the same connotations of certain words. As an example, he mentions the word "tweedy", which, together with the connotation of goods, usually evokes an association with

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Means are thus the product of differences or relations between signs: "as Saussure says," in language, as in any semiological system, everything that distinguishes one sign from another constitutes it, "there are only differences without positive expressions" (Saussure 1974: 120 -121). In addition, meanings are the product of social agreement, they are the product of negotiations between people.

"Syntagmatic" and "paradigmatic" differences can also be distinguished between signs. In the first, syntagmatic difference, the difference between the characters refers to the type of sign, the conjunction (men's pants are combined with a man's shirt, for example), and in the second, paradigmatic difference, the emphasis is on the possibility of substitution, disjunction of things with something else. a difference that emphasizes the difference in the style of the collar of a particular men 's shirt). Thus we have in the syntagm the relationship between the elements "

As we see, the syntagm and the paradigm depend on the specific culture and social context. In this sense, the specific meaning of fashion clothes does not exist without this kind of contextualization. This is confirmed by Roland Barthes, who in the cases of myth and rhetoric (for Barthes they are only variants of ideology) emphasizes the role of connotation for ideology. As Bernard explains:

Connotations were due to class, gender, age, nationality and so on and consequently changed from person to person as class, age and so on changed. At the level of connotation one has to look for ideology. that come to mind are the result of class, gender, age, etc. In a sense, they are the source of ideology. ira «; normalizes the connotative meaning in such a way that we do not notice that a certain meaning is due to the specific ideology of a certain class, a certain age group, gender group, etc. Denotation therefore takes these meanings as literal and generally acceptable. Semiology can therefore be understood as a theory of general contexts within which we can understand the meaning of clothing, and these contexts can be understood through the analysis of syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships.

In the case of artistic and design practice the focal point of the Coal Story project would mean that using coal as a material had to confront the ambivalent meaning of coal as a sign: at the moment, coal indicates something dirty and harmful, as well as something that was once recognized as a marker of prosperity that enables economic stability and growth of Zasavje and connects the local community. With her jewelry design, design of national and local souvenirs and business gifts from coal, this artist especially emphasizes the representative value of coal, which derives from the common local identity of the region. In one of her interviews, Marjeta Hribar explains: I am a jewelry designer and I come from Zasavje, so it was natural for me to take coal as my material and to try to transform myself through various processes. into something that would gain value again. This is how jewelry was created under the spontaneous KUOLMi brand. The brand represents a phonetic transcription of the word coal in the Zasavje dialect.

Coal jewelery creates an intimate bond to maintain a relationship with the past in the name of emancipation of the locals in the present and allows to release the shame that arose in Zasavje when the coal mines closed. The emphasis of this designer is that the past can be invested in the future, no matter what that past was like and how most people accept it today. The sign itself can be translated into something else, it can (and for an integrated individual and society - it must) be restructured into an affirmative and productive symbol. In this way, coal should not be something dirty and harmful, but should primarily be associated with a sense of belonging and connection:

I live in Zasavje, where for the last 200 years almost everything revolves around this sedimentary rock. All the stories of our grandparents and great-grandparents are related to coal, including our entire history. Back then, even though life was hard and dangerous, people knew they were part of something. Lately, however, coal has become something ugly, dirty and harmful. In our minds, however, we are still emotionally attached to him, and when coal lost its meaning, we also lost a little ... Once an elderly lady from Ljubljana visited me, came by train and used a walker. She wanted to buy a coal ring in memory of her grandfather, who was a miner. The second time the doorbell rang and there was a married couple from Germany who heard about my jewelry on the radio. Without knowing exactly who they were looking for, they found me with the help of neighbors, who showed them where the "coal one" lived, as they wanted to take a piece of their birthplace with them.

In Marjeta Hribar's design practice is another interesting moment. We can say that her work is interesting not only because she perceives and participates in coal as an actual sign, but also because she uses coal as a material, which she eventually transforms into an aesthetic object through special processing. This process shows the transformation of the use of this material - from the exploitation of material for other processes to the disclosure of this material, which is - black sedimentary rocks. This gives it another level of play with this material and a variety of uses that is not burdened with history as a fossil fuel. The emphasis on coal as a material not used for burning but for shaping and shaping is something that semiology does not cover adequately, so it is a necessary step towards the theory of material culture.
Autonomous Logic of Material
A different understanding of fashion and design, different from the semiological approach, is found in the theory of material culture, especially in the version offered by Daniel Miller. For Miller, semiology is a theory that provides an understanding of things in terms of the way those things represent us. And fashion items and clothing are actually the most common way semiology interprets the representative value of things. "Clothing was a kind of pseudo-language that could tell us who we were," Miller writes of the theory of semiology. much so that we have come to terms with this capacity. " ] the human subject. ”According to Miller's theory of material culture, based on Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical foundations, as well as Hegel's theory of" objectification "(Miller's term), objects do not need to be constantly reduced to subjects.
Miller generally uses a dialectical methodological approach that can go beyond the most common difference between subject and object.In this sense, Miller's analysis of materiality shows that materiality usually seeks to dematerialize. is that the practices that are most radical in advocating the immaterial (as in the case of religious practices) tend to use the most material things (embalming in Egyptian culture, bread and wine in Christianity, etc.) in their own. implementation. Materiality, including clothing, is usually understood as something that has no value in itself (its value and significance depend only on the subject), as it is merely an inanimate thing, so serious interest in it is usually understood as trivial and superficial. While the subject as the bearer of the inner self is seen as the one who attributes value to something that in itself has no value. This means that a new material approach that does not focus on the subjective value of material provides the following: “(1) rethink dualisms and (2) question the notion of material activity. New materialism seeks to rethink the dualisms between, for example, natural and social, human and inhuman, material and immaterial. "
The emphasis on material as such is extremely important for designer Marjeta Hribar, who emphasizes:" I would like to everyone would find their own style and especially their own material, because I believe that in this way a person can really feel the material of their work and can show their style and creativity. ”
Coal jewelry also retains its organic shape and natural color in her artwork Marjeta Hribar does not create waste materials in the manufacture of these items and jewelery, respecting the material and emphasizing the ecological approach in her work: Jewelery is presented under the slogan: "Wear it, don't burn it!", which means that if looking at something from a different perspective, we can create a better world together.In the age of plastic in which we live, it is very pleasant to be able to make something natural ... From something that was synonymous with the old, gr to and detrimental, I have created something new, beautiful and represents a new ecological way of thinking. The thing is, we don’t have to throw away things we already have. If we look at them from a different angle, we can recognize their other properties that we have not noticed so far, reuse them and thus turn something invaluable into something valuable. It's environmentally friendly and innovative.
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In her article entitled Vision and material practice: Vladimir Tatlin and the design of everyday objects historian of contemporary and modern art Laurel Fredrickson writes: Tatlin believed that design should come from exploring and exploiting the intrinsic properties of a material and considering how it could be combined with other materials. As art historian Yve-Alain Bois points out, Tatlin believed that there was a “natural” way to process any material: a metal sheet had to be bent, that is, bent; the glass must be cut; and so on. "Forcing something to take a form that it would not have acquired in nature was contrary to his approach. It is especially noteworthy that Tatlin, with his work and theoretical approach to design, strongly opposes Western or According to Tatlin, American aesthetic practices, already adopted by artists and designers in Russia at the time, focused exclusively on the appearance of the designed object, were "unnatural" and described them as "chaotic individualized production" and "implicitly innovative because of innovation."

Instead of imitating the trends of capitalist countries, Tatlin argues for the need to understand and use materials that are in line with the specifics of thinking, economy, available raw materials and climate in his home country, Russia. analysis of the materials used and their interrelationships was essential for this artist to plan e and the construction of each new facility. This proves the importance of the "organic" and "organic form" that Tatlin places as the beginning of a new art.
The organism is the principle of coherence of different fields in the creation of works of art, art and technology and man, nature and technology. Tatlin created for the future with the means of modern technology, but he always remained connected to nature and the past. As the theorist Fredrickson writes after the eminent Russian author Larisa Alekseevna Zhadova:
For Tatlin, aspects of the transcendental order were created and naturally connected: man, their highest manifestation, were of equal value. "According to this perspective, the creation of objects can be considered an important way for people to imitate the creativity of nature. This means that Tatlin may have thought that an object must be utilitarian. , not only to serve practical needs, but also to create greater unity and thus connect the user with forces greater than himself, making him aware of his place in the collectivity that transcended social community.
Tatlin tried to place objects in dialogue with the surroundings, he wanted to “make them part of a living whole, give them a dialogical character.”
He dedicated his work at the Department of Material Culture to creating new forms, to i would derive from precisely this analysis of the relationship of the object with the environment of man and his body and the collective past. These characteristics of interconnectedness, openness and dialogue between objects form the basis of the aforementioned principle of organicism, which is the starting point of Tatlin's work. The organism refers us to both "straightness" and "life", and for Tatlin the organism is also closely connected with the concept of "organization".
Tatlin sees every object as a unit that is always utilitarian, as it performs a certain function. For this artist and designer, a certain object has its role and function, its agency, similar to the subject.
In this way we need to understand Tatlin's idea that the artist must become an organizer of everyday life by producing new forms that will result from studying the relationships between materials within and in relation to their particular local environment.