Hosted over 250 participants from 13 countries under the theme “ARE WE HUMAN?: The Design of the Species: 2 seconds, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years”, the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial was realized as a result of a great effort.
“A manifesto is always a provocation, a call to action. In this case, it’s a call to rethink design in the face of a planet and a species in unprecedented crisis,” said the curators Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, at the beginning of the Biennial Manifesto which they have prepared for the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial. Design is being considered by curators as an inquiry tool focusing on our world, our time and ourselves for it is not possible to contemplate them independently of design, which represents the most essential act of human existence. The Biennial Manifesto states: “We live in a time when everything is designed, from our carefully crafted individual looks and online identities, to the surrounding galaxies of personal devices, new materials, interfaces,networks, systems, infrastructures, data, chemicals, organisms, and genetic codes. The average day involves the experience of thousands of layers of design that reach to outer space but also reach deep into our bodies and brains. We literally live inside design, like the spider lives inside the web constructed from inside its own body. But unlike the spider, we have spawned countless overlapping and interacting webs. Even the planet itself has been completely encrusted by design as a geological layer. There is no longer an outside to the world of design. Design has become the world.” Through unfolding the design layers of our time along with a kind of archaeological research and meticulously implemented historical and sociological excavations, Colomina and Wigley open up a discussion on our planet, humanity and the design itself, starting from 2 seconds and extending over 200,000 years within the scope of our existence. The fact that they decided upon Istanbul Archaeology Museum to unveil the conceptual framework of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial for the first time, under the theme “ARE WE HUMAN?: The Design of the Species: 2 seconds, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years”, put a smile on everyone’s face. Especially when considered the documentarian exhibiting practice of Beatriz Colomina that we are all familiar with her exhibitions such as “Clip, Stamp, Fold” and “Playboy Architecture”, the venue selection and calm archivist attitude of the 3rd Istanbul Biennial reach a higher significance.
“We should start in this project in this unbelievable room, in this one of the most important archaeological collections in the world. I think one million objects are here, and for us, this is a museum of design, typo”, said Wigley, who later displayed colorful phone cases inside the museum between Roman sculptures and tombs of Sidon. It was a true example of heart-warming sensitivity they show to dialogues, among periods and works, ancient and modern interventions. Perhaps the most astonishing surprise of the biennial for the Istanbulite visitors, was seeing footprints left by a design object, a shoe that is found during the excavations of a transport network passing beneath the Bosphorus and used by the locals who had lived 8,500 years ago in Istanbul, one of the oldest settlements of the world that inholds permanent settlement. Colomina and Wigley present a historiographical first call for visitors by designing the large gallery space at the entrance of Galata Greek Primary School, which hosted the most crowded exhibition of the biennial, as an archaeological work based upon humanity redesigning itself. A real-life human model, “The Transparent Man”, which re-visits Istanbul 70 years later; the space program of Galina Balashova, one of the forerunner female figures of Soviet modernism; François Dallegre’s “Art Fiction” which focuses on the late 60’s when the conceptual art began to bloom, and the “Portable Person” of Studio Works which stands in the core of technology and mobility desires of the 70’s; all these imaginations from different times about humanity create a polyphonic narrative inside the space. Looking down at today’s human from upper floors, “Going Fluid: The Cosmetic Protocols of Gangnam” by Common Accounts, Igor Bragado and Miles Gertler brings urban industries into question which are triggered by the economy of redesigning humanity in an area where most of the world’s plastic surgery clinics are found. Stating that, “Design is the most human thing about us. Design is what makes the human. It is the basis of social life, from the very first artefacts to the exponential expansion of human capability. But design also engineers inequalities and new forms of neglect. More people than ever in history are forcibly displaced by war, lawlessness, poverty, and climate at the same time that the human genome and the weather are being actively redesigned. We can no longer reassure ourselves with the idea of ‘good design’. Design needs to be redesigned,” the biennial presents works about today and their urgencies as you go up the stairs.
“Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo” by Laura Kurgan and Center for Spatial Research, reveals the destruction of the cultural heritage of one of the oldest cities in the world at the Archaeology Museum. Forensic Architecture, Baltasar Garzón, m7red and Irendra Radjawali tackle the violence exerted by humans to other living species and environmental -animal rights over the story of Orangutan Sandra in the “Ape Law”. Examining the remote places of the world that are far from human intervention and their “uninhabited” conditions in reality, Alfredo Thiermann and Ariel Bustamente dwell on Antarctica after the Cold War, in their works entitled “White on White”. Paulo Tavares and Armin Linke trace the deforestation of the Amazon rainforests with “The Archeology of Violence: The Forest as a Design”. Fake Industries Architectural Agonism and UTS ironically puzzle you through the designed borders of the Indian Pacific Region and its global relations. Meditating on the interventions beyond the planet, Stuart Grey visualizes 20 thousand objects in Earth’s orbit with “Space Debris”. One of the most striking works of the biennial in my opinion, “It is obvious from the map” by Thomas Keenan, Sohrab Mohebbi, Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani, compare the maps created by the refugees in the Mediterranean Region which they have shared with each other and maps of the governments obliged to follow these refugees; “These maps reveal how the suffering of migrants is obsessively watched yet murderously neglected by the various forces tasked with their surveillance and control. ” It gives rise to the thought that ignoring is also a design and questions the correspondence of “Are We Human?” in today’s Mediterranean Region by tracing those who ask, in a structure that is generated with the overlapping realities and lines. According to Colomina and Wigley within the scope of their conceptual framework “good design is anesthetic”, cell phones which have become a vital bodily organ are numbing the human brain. Despite the awfulness of what we watch every single day, distant realities we witness are flowing from our minds as visuals flowing from the screens of our phones which have been perfected over the years. Presenting the new human of today with the evolution of mobile phones following their invention in 1983 on the top floor of the school, “Homo Cellular” serves as a semicolon that is used by the curators for the exhibition. The exhibition design realized by Andrés Jaque and Office for Political Innovation team, who I love very much for their interventions regarding today’s systems, is worth mentioning while we are talking about an exhibition that speaks a lot about design. As for the school with its memory of the space, classrooms that open out onto each other and the stairs that connect the floors, which always established powerful and polyphonic narratives; its epilogue in my opinion will be the city itself, where the terrace opens out to, where all the stories merge with its ever-changing view. Through settling in five different venues with different memories such as the Archeology Museum, the old Galata Greek Primary School, Alt Art Space in Bomontiada located inside a historic brewery, former tobacco warehouse, DEPO and Studio-X, one of the new research centers of Istanbul; biennial also focuses on the bonds established with the city, its memory and productions, departed from the most complicated “designs”. I would like to say the scenario pointing out Colomina and Wigley’s subtle interventions which further “infiltrate” into the city and nestle inside the seconds, days and thousand-year-old layers of Istanbul, a city that is being transformed, designed and conceptualized at a terrifying rate, remains as a wish that I would feel excited to have experienced. Along with parallel and academic programs, panels, workshops and “Creative Neighborhoods” program, it’s certain that Istanbul Design Biennial planted the seeds of new ideas and production styles pertaining to design, art, architecture and the city itself, worked up new connections and triggered the creative dynamics of the city along with the agenda it has created. At this point, in terms of its ongoing studies and the agenda it is going to create; I think it’s important to mention “Turkish Design Chronology” under the administration of Pelin Derviş including many participations from different disciplines; a research study that took part in the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial program and includes different mediums on the history of design in Turkey. The book published by Lars Müller Publishers with the title “Are We Human? Notes on An Archeology of Design” and” Superhumanity “, realized in collaboration with e-flux that tackles the question of “Are We Human?” along with the articles of an international network through new perspectives, represent the other projects that will perpetuate the essence of the biennial in new mediums.