Modernism in Australia During the Interwar Period

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Design a modern country
Modernism in Australia during the interwar period

Yiting Zheng
7270585
Faculty of Life and Social Science

Though the start of the modernisation may trace back to the beginning of Industrial Revolution. “Modernism in the design world did not exist in a fully developed form, until well after First World War.” (Wilk, 2006) Causing the great loss of lives and other countless damage to the world, it reshaped many people’s way of thinking the world. With the inspiration of early avant-garde movement, the modernism began to emerge advocating an utopian future and shared certain core principles by various styles of modernists: rejecting the past and applied ornament; forms follow function, a preference for abstraction; and a belief that design and technology could transform society.(Wilk, 2006) Here then, Modernism started off from Europe and soon spread all over the world making its great influence in 20th century design till this day.  Australia is one of the early receivers of modernism in the mid-1910s through European migrants, expatriates and publications. However, Australia’s reception to modernism is a complex story of cultural transformation where it often met strong resistance from general public and art establishments. Despite such resistance, modernism have made great impact on reshaping the environment to affecting body image, social life and ideals about design in Australia’s modernity. (“Modernism - australia.gov.au”, n.d.) So what is like of modernism, modernisation and modernity in Australia in the early years during the interwar period?

fg1. Australia Surf Club, designed by Gert Sellheim
The First World War destroyed great amount of people’s homes in Europe and led many of them migrate to Australia where it is far from the battlefield. They brought with them skills, knowledge, experience and culture. (“Changing face of modern Australia”, n.d.) The famous architect and graphic designer Gert Sellheim, who designed well-known poster “Australia Surf Club”, is a great example among them.(Spearritt, n.d.) In addition to the immigrants and their skills, the unprecedented violence and destruction caused immediate urge for artists, designer and architects to apply new technology, combined with a single, all-embracing methodology, to every part of the manufactured environment to create a better world (Wilk, 2006) which such modern concept was also brought by the immigrants as well as publications and our travellers return from Europe. Later followed by the Great Depression causing enormous economic damage in 1929, applying new technology to enable mass production became crucial to create jobs and boost the economy which further intensify the urge of embracing modernism. Thus modernism is able to flourish in Australia and modern design such as Sydney Harbour Bridge built Fg.2 Sydney Harbour Bridge

in 1932 instantly became a national icon promoting Australian modernity. Though it is common to believe modernism brought in Australia in the mid-1910s, people at the time such as modernist artist Margaret Preston discovered that some of the fundamental elements in modernism already existed in Aboriginals’ artwork. Taking boomerang for example, its beautiful geometric symmetry, combining straight lines and curves, is well suited to modern design. More than the pleasure of its look and shape, it is actually crafted in particular shape with purpose that resembles the principle of “form follows function”. (Stephen, McNamara  & Goad, 2008, p.32)

Fg11. Douglas Motorcycles at the Kingswood factory, 1930s
Architecture is probably one of the most prominent aspects reflecting modern design. Important modernists like Italian Futurism, Bauhaus, De Stijl and many more dedicated great amount of effort in architecture and left us today with stunning architectures. Where modernism in Europe and America grew fast after WWI, Australian modern architecture was at its infancy during the time around WWI,...
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