Cover photo: Domagoj Kunić
Nika Pavlinek graduated from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Zagreb, in the field of industrial design. As a student, she began her year longtime collaboration with Aleksandar Kovač, with whom she worked on numerous projects, such as the design for the gastronomy magazine Iće&Piće. By the end of her studies, she began doing set design for ballet, first as an associate of Nenad Fabijanić, and later independently. She has done the set design for numerous television shows and theatre plays and designed a number of visual art exhibitions in museums, on which she most often collaborated with Damir Prizmić. She frequently collaborates with Aida Brenko and Marija Živković, curators of the Ethnographic Museum, on topical exhibitions such as Fire, The Power of Color, Smoke and many others. Independently or in expert teams, she designs interiors or specific design systems. The majority of projects on which she works are of an educational or interdisciplinary character. She was the head designer for the reconstruction and interior design of the Radnička Gallery (RAGA), where she collaborated with the curator Leila Mehulić and many others on numerous projects, as a curator and gallery manager. She is a member of the Croatian Designers Association and work as an Assistant Professor on the Design Course at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Zagreb.
Your work so far includes everything from graphic design, set design, museum exhibition design and interior design, from managing galleries and curating exhibitions, to working as an assistant professor at the design program at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb. Do you view these activities as separate or mutually connected?
I can’t say I got involved with all of these undertakings deliberately in parallel. New interests and skills developed and revealed themselves as I was working, and these have led to various new jobs. Design work is in itself generally interdisciplinary, and shifting between fields or combining them is not that unusual.
“The problem is that often design is used to cover up the diversity of the exhibits or that a unified approach is used to make the exhibits uniform since it is often difficult to find a common denominator for them. In these cases, the exhibitions are beautiful in terms of the design, but to the detriment of the exhibits themselves”
How has the experience of managing the Radnička Gallery (RAGA) influenced your understanding of the relation between design and art? Is there a project you did that explored this relation?
The exhibitions themselves did not deal with design as such, but architecture and interior design did have an impact on what was exhibited there. The gallery space was conceived as a space for an intimate interaction with the objects observed. What I could observe, through a continued collaboration with artists, is that design sometimes suffers due to its explicit need for a practical purpose, i.e. the lack of creative freedom, whereas art suffers due to the lack of such a need and perhaps a bit too much freedom.
In the design of art exhibitions, it is often the case that the design overpowers the focus of the exhibition. How do you approach designing exhibitions; where is the line that the intervention of the designer should not cross?
I approach designing exhibitions by finding my own inspiration in the exhibits, which propels a series of creative moments that work on several levels, not just the formal one. To me, it is important that there is one theme, which I try to apply throughout the entire space. The intervention of the designer can cross any line it wants, as long as the artists or the client commissioning the work agree to it. The problem is that often design is used to cover up the diversity of the exhibits or that a unified approach is used to make the exhibits uniform since it is often difficult to find a common denominator for them. In these cases, the exhibitions are beautiful in terms of the design, but to the detriment of the exhibits themselves.
“Daily I see around myself other well-thought-out, engaged and noble initiatives, whose creators do not perceive themselves as designers or are not even interested in highlighting their work or promoting it because they are not a part of the design system network”
At a time when messages are exchanged rapidly and communication is done via images, the functional aspects of objects often become secondary and the emphasis is placed on the aesthetics, which leads to the creation of “insincere” products that are often used merely as set design for editorials. Are there situations in design when it is acceptable to treat objects this way?
In the collage technique or in set design? Never in living spaces. We are bombarded by images to such a degree that we don’t even see the space around us, seeing it more and more as a meta-space, a good example being Instagram. I don’t mean to reduce internet platforms to something inherently negative or superficial, but it is clear we are in the danger of giving up on investing ourselves into reality.
As a member of the selection committee for the Croatian Design Exhibition, do you feel that the potential of design’s contribution to society has been fulfilled in the current climate? Do the works submitted represent a realistic image of design in Croatia?
The works submitted are mostly from a specific niche, which is not that different from similar exhibitions elsewhere in the world. Certainly, the design is good. However, daily I see around myself other well-thought-out, engaged and noble initiatives, whose creators do not perceive themselves as designers or are not even interested in highlighting their work or promoting it because they are not a part of the design system network. In the future, such projects could find their way into this exhibition if we redefine the design categories.
The selection of this year’s exhibition, just like the last couple of times, is mostly reduced to designers of the younger and middle generation. What is happening with the older generation of designers and those working in education? Have they grown out of the biennial exhibition, have they stopped doing design or is what they are creating not current and relevant?
It seems that exhibitions are often all about proving yourself and showing what you got, and I suppose older generations of designers no longer feel the need for this. Except for a few, who are exercising endurance, many turn to education, to themselves or have simply decided to give others the opportunity to prove themselves.
“Defining the needs and preparing a business plan are important factors, and designers are often not part of these processes”
The exhibition design projects were categorized under Spatial and graphic interventions and systems, a category that comprises a great number of diverse projects that combine all design disciplines and are often the result of the collaboration of several designers and teams. What were the basic criteria in the selection of the submissions under this category?
The basic selection criteria were the degree of involvement with the subject matter and dedication to the subject matter – the extent to which the material has been brought to life and systematized, as well as the extent and quality of implementation from the work as a whole to every detail.
Collaborations of production companies and designers have been announced, promising quality products with a high aesthetic value, envisaged for the interior design of homes and offices. Another option is presenting products as prototypes, in a limited series, most often due to a lack of funds or the inability to distribute them. Often, projects that should be aimed at a greater number of consumers remain on the level of initiatives. Does this encourage an elitization of design and contribute to a chasm between social groups, leading to the conclusion that design is not for everyone?
Yes, but I feel this is primarily an issue of Croatian economic policies and the manufacturing sector, not just an issue of design. Design is often conceived as having such an extensive scope that it can, if it is good, resolve all issues, but this is a fantasy. Problems such as poverty and the lack of education are complex and cannot be resolved in one generation. Good design is certainly aware of these rifts within the market and quite often the decision needs to be made deliberately whether a certain product is elite or not, in terms of how accessible it is and how wide it can be distributed. Defining the needs and preparing a business plan are important factors, and designers are often not part of these processes. I realize these aspects are not fun or simple, but a well-done analysis of the market need for a certain product in the context of an entire project should be valued and appreciated. We live in a time when a lot of attention is given to phenomena that, other than being intoxicating for a brief moment, do not meet any intrinsic needs.