I am an Associate Professor in Design History in the Department of Critical and Historical Studies in Kingston School of Art. I research and teach histories and theories of design to students of both design and art and design history at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels. I enjoy this mix of teaching, as it helps ensure the currency and rigour of my practice. It has also informed my interrelated research interests, which often pivot around the relevance of the past to the present. These include: Italian design, craft and the relationship between design and craft, socially and politically engaged design and design history.
Before joining Kingston I was a context lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art. This followed the 2011 completion of my PhD in the RCA/V&A History of Design department, where I undertook an AHRC collaborative award entitled 'Modern Craft: History, Theory and Practice'. My research examined the overlooked role of craft in Italy's celebrated post-war design history, which I turned into the book Crafting Design in Italy: from postwar to postmodernism (Manchester University Press, 2015).
I like to have a range of research activities at any one time. There's three main things keeping me busy right now: EP3: Post-Craft, a book co-edited with Alex Coles for Sternberg Press, which will investigate the current popularity of craft from a multidisciplinary perspective. Post-Craft follows on from our previous collaboration in the EP series, EP1: The Italian Avant-garde, 1968 - 1976 (2013). This book kick-started a growing interest in nightclubs and design, which led to curating an installation at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale called Space Electronic: Then and Now and the co-curation of Radical Disco: Architecture and Nightlife in Italy, 1965, with Sumitra Upham at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (December 2015 - January 2016). There's been a lot of interest in the topic and there's also a lot more to be said, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this could develop.
Lastly, I have recently started to examine contemporary maker culture in China, initially thanks an AHRC/British Council research project Living Research: Making in China. I'm currently leading China's Creative Communities: Making Value and the Value(s) of Making, a collaborative AHRC Newton fund research project that seeks to support China's wealth of making communities and the multiple cultural, creative and other values they have. I'm also involved in projects around topics including science fiction, contemporary design history and design auctions.
I'm passionate about design practice and research that has value; that helps overcome the unsustainability and inequality of the world we exist in.
I don't know if I can, or will ever be able to claim, that my research affects people's everyday lives. What I can say that I am interested in exploring the value of design that does have this impact, such as Fixperts. I also hope that my research helps me be of greater use to my students.
Another question that makes me realise how small my research is! If I really could change one thing it would be to overcome injustices and exploitation of people and the planet.
I'm really interested in understanding design issues on an international level. Given the connected, globalised world we live in I don't think you can truly understand a subject at a local level unless you understand the international networks it exists in. This is true whether you want to understand nightclubs, craft or even Italian design, whose national design story is inextricably tied to the design, production and consumption cultures of other places, from China to California.
So if I had the luck (and challenge!) of an unlimited research budget I would travel, and engage with the people and immerse myself in the places that make design what it is.
The staff and students at Kingston are an inspiration. From fascinating research projects by colleagues to a wealth of talented students that we're lucky enough to teach each year, there's an energy, an embrace of experimentation and a sense of purpose that I find invaluable for my own research and teaching practice.
Find out more about Catharine Rossi on her staff profile page.