Istanbul Design Biennial: Design and Humanity

The 3rd instalment of the Istanbul Design Biennial is open to the public until 20 November, and promises an inward look at the inherent nature of design in our everyday lives. Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, this year’s series is entitled “ARE WE HUMAN?: The Design of the Species: 2 seconds, 2 days, 2 years, 200 years, 200,00 years”, and explores the intimate relationship between “design” and “human” over a time period that spans from a scale of 200,000 years to 2 seconds. The Biennial is curated by Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, and presents more than 70 projects by over 250 participants, including work from designers, architects, artists, theorists, choreographers, filmmakers, historians and archaeologists from more than 50 countries. Five main venues host the event; Galata Greek Primary School, Studio-X Istanbul and Depo in Karaköy, Alt Art Space in bomontiada, and Istanbul Archaeological Museums in Sultanahmet, all adding their own unique character to the exhibition.

Colomina and Wigely created a curatorial manifesto for the exhibition, a polemic statement to which all the featured artists and designers responded to create a cacophony of projects, each ruminating on the relationship between humanity and design. The manifesto states: “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. Design has become the world and it is what makes the human. It is the basis of social life, from the very first artefacts to the exponential expansion of human capability”.

This year’s Design Biennial features multiple overlapping layers, through which the theme is explored, and visitors invited and engaged to re-think design. The show is organised into four “clouds”; the groups consist of: Designing the Body, Designing the Planet, Designing Life, and Designing Time.

The first section explores range of ways in which we can think of the human body as an artefact that is continually being reconstructed, encompassing topics such as the effect of shoes on human abilities, to the latest developments in neuroscience research on the human brain. Rethinking the human design of vast territories and ecologies, the Planet portion of the exhibition invites us to take a closer look at the environments around us. Designing Life looks at the new forms of mechanical, electronic and biological life that are being crafted. The final section of the Biennial, concerning time, presents a new kind of archaeology, and juxtaposes the very first human tools and ornaments, with the most progressive of contemporary technologies, such as social media, which allows humans to redesign or recreate themselves in a matter of seconds. Despite the categorisation of each project, the divisions are not strict limitations, the clouds representing gateways to similar thoughts in an interconnected web of ideas.

The exhibition runs until 20 November at a range of venues throughout Istanbul.

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  1. MOS Architects, Selfie Curtain (2016)