Unlike the previous Istanbul design biennials, which were located in the Galata Greek School, the current one is distributed in different galleries along a pedestrian corridor of the city. This was a curatorial decision and raises the question: what are spaces of education and how do they relate to other spaces? To put it more broadly: how are institutional spaces defined? What are their boundaries and how do they relate to what is outside them—recurring questions that gain special attention today due to the decline of public space and the privatization of institutions. Jan Boelen, the biennial's curator, repeated the phrase “safe spaces” during his introductory talk, a phrase that resonates strongly. But what is a safe space? Of course, security checks are always there, at the entrance to every gallery space of the Biennial. But there is a different premise in distributing the spaces of the biennial along the most populated pedestrian corridor of Istanbul. One can consider this distributed network in contrast to an example from New York: the recently completed Fulton Street Subway station in Manhattan brings together different subway lines and facilitates the control of a transit space. Its beautiful dome also embodies the kind of invisible centralization belonging to a state of security and control. Safe space, though, is not the same as space of security and control. Indeed, this is why the spaces of the biennial are distributed throughout a main pedestrian street in Istanbul, corresponding to the vision of an institution that is networked and additive. Each location is different and has different characteristics. The galleries themselves are very different, some in basements turned in on themselves and some with panoramic views of the city. Some of the exhibitions are co-curated and reflect very different sensibilities. In locations that don’t reproduce each other, there is diversity and difference. If one contrast could be established with traditional institutions, another one could be made with movements that aim to do away with institutions altogether. “Deinstitutionalization," a diverse movement across Europe in the 1960s, was a critique of the way institutions produced hierarchies and reproduced subjectivity. Often, critique began by challenging the boundaries of institutions, for example by dismantling the clear cut borders of a hospital. What we see in the biennial, though, is not deinstitutionalization: the art gallery is very much still a gallery. The question is, rather, how boundaries become permeable and institutions avoid doctrines. One answer may be through the structure of networks that connect things and people but do not override them. Hierarchies are established, but they are temporary. One sees this sensibility for example in Ebru Kurbak’s Infrequently Asked Questions, a work that involves refugee women who are asked which skills they could teach to the women in the society where they arrive at, and in Judith Seng’s School of Fluid Measures, which underscores the relational and performative aspects of measurements and values. We can be going through spaces of security forever but unremitting surveillance doesn’t make spaces safe. It creates ceaseless records of what we do, where we go, what we buy, but not necessarily how we live and die. Education, if it is to return to its core, needs safe spaces more than security. Safety is more physical and elementary, but also more conceptual. It is about having the space to think and be different, and about being able to dissent and at the same time, cooperate. It’s about vulnerability as much as strength, and about being able to fail, as this is the only way to learn. Indeed, failure is one of the best things one can see in a design context, and it is very much part of the process. Rather than emphasizing creative thinking that has by now become a technique employed by corporations in the form of brainstorming, the biennial asks us if we can learn differently. The move between different galleries and the urban space is critical for this kind of learning. Mark Wigley said in one of the roundtables that perhaps we need design to deal with reality—reality without design is too brutal and we need design’s optimism. In the 4th Istanbul Biennial, A School of Schools, the optimism of design is the possibility to learn differently.
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The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial started this week, welcoming visitors to exhibits organized around the theme A School of Schools. Pieces are divided among thematic "schools," the names of which—Unmaking, Earth, Currents, Scale, Time, and Digestion—anchor the projects while slightly defamiliarizing what is commonplace. This becomes especially clear when one thinks of alternatives: Earth School could have been “World School,” or Currents School could have been “Networks School,” but the chosen names allow the visitors to see familiar concepts in a different light. The Currents School brings together a number of projects that are based on different definitions of currents: currency, voltage, sea currents, information, and migrations. For example, Stitching Worlds, an art-based research project led by Ebru Kurbak shows the ways in which textile crafts like crochet, embroidery, and knitting can inform the electronics industry. Another work by Kurbak, Lonely Planet hacks the travel guide's book on Syria with first-person interviews with people who fled Syria. Fugu School by åbäke traces the fugu fish to the Bosphorus while uncovering histories and intersecting fields of knowledge. Open Sesame by CMP office underscores an alternative network to Alibaba by bringing together research on the migration of Aleppo soap factories, leather craftsmen producing replicas of luxury brands, and street vendors. What unfolds through these projects is an expanded “philology” of networks and world wide webs. One realizes that there can be alternative networks and that different internets can be constructed. In the Earth School, what could have been a generic “world” becomes very specific, geological, and material in projects that address earthquakes, survival, and the harnessing of new materials. As one moves through the school's different galleries, one can imagine Istanbul in the aftermath of an earthquake with Hope on Water from the Istanbul-based team SO? that proposes a temporary floating city on the Bosphorus. SulSolSal’s Staying Alive is part a “wunderkammer,” and part a survival guide for natural and social disasters. On the uppermost floor, one finds alternative futures with Atelier Luma’s Blooming Algae, a project that explores the potential of algae biopolymers as a material for everyday objects designed in collaboration with designers in Cairo, Arles, and Istanbul. Meriem Chabani and Maya Nemeta of New South reimagine the Mediterranean with If Algae Mattered, a fictional map where Algeria becomes a new geopolitical center as the balance of power shifts from North to South with algae becoming a main resource. In the Unmaking School, we see the relationship between humankind and technology, and unmaking becomes a condition of both making and learning. Post-laboratory by Ottonie von Roeder involves a series of robots that are designed after workers. The teamaker robot is designed for the Istanbul Biennial in conversation with three teamakers in the city, who then reflect on their labor and what they would do if robots could complete their tasks. WaterSchool by Studio Makkink and Bey is a speculation on a primary school based on water as a material and theme, bringing together a wide array of projects as part of its curriculum. Refreshingly, the works in the biennial display a mixture of techniques, processes, modes of production, and temporalities, including digital and analog methods. Ana Peñalba’s Istanbul Techno-Tourist is a series of hand-made drawings based on the images of Istanbul’s iconic architecture found in social media. Emelie Röndahl’s Google Weaving Stop-Time includes 20 hand-woven carpets that are based on images found in Google searches. Although the same words enter the search engine, the results vary because of the different algorithms that Google uses in different places. The carpets tie the images to specific places and slow down the time in which they are consumed. If Peñalba’s and Röndahl’s works incorporate the digital ecology of images to their modes of production, there are also works that question the role of the designer in this new environment. For example, Crossing Parallels explores the possibilities of orchestrating a basket weaving technique and 3-D printing by closely working with an artisan and a craftsperson. Throughout the exhibitions, every project is presented as a process rather than a finished product, accompanied by a strong narrative component in audio, video, or text. The emphasis on the project as process makes the biennial difficult to photograph, which comes as a relief in the age of Instagram. In line with the emphasis on process, several projects are results of collaboration and fieldwork. There is a strong ethos of thinking about labor and work throughout the works in the Biennial. Boelen calls this a “new way of empathy and of sharing knowledge.” The biennial's press conference ended with a performance by Vivien Tauchmann titled Textiles. Members of the press were invited to join in a performance which at first seemed like a stretching exercise but the gestures were those specific to menial tasks in the textile industry. It is useful to compare the performance to an earlier one like Diller Scofidio’s Bad Press (1993), where the labor-intensive task of ironing is employed to produce shirts in states that are not stackable or utilizable. If in the earlier work, discipline was the keyword, in Tauchmann’s design-as-performance, embodiment and empathy are keywords. Presenting Tauchmann’s work as part of the press conference also suggests that criticism or response to the works in the biennial requires empathy as well. Indeed, it is through empathy we can start discussing education anew. The biennial presents one of the best ways of learning by design: seeing links between things that were not necessarily obvious and rethinking current notions that make up the contemporary world. If there is a pedagogy of curation, this could be it. As Boelen explains, curation is about translating a project and sharing it with the public. This is not a school and visitors to the exhibition are not students, but what we see is curating as a pedagogical effort. When I asked Boelen what is missing in this “school of schools,” his answer was “I hope a lot” in the sense that this school, and, in a way, every school is an open work. Instead of a comprehensive disciplinary curriculum, the “school of schools” is project-based, unfinished and always under construction. He hopes the biennial will inspire other people to think of other schools and to add to the “school of schools.”
A School of Schools, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, is opening its doors to the public this week. Curated by Jan Boelen with associate curators Nadine Botha and Vera Sacchetti, the biennial is spread out to six different venues in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. Each venue houses a different “school” and brings together a number of works that explore a specific theme: Unmaking School, Currents School, Earth School, Scales School, Time School, and Digestion School. Walking from one venue to the next, one engages with one of the busiest parts of the city, and this experience of moving between urban space and “schools” is critical to the biennial’s theme of rethinking education through design and design through education. The distinct spaces at the heart of the city constitute an “educational web” where visitors can think and experience the relationship between design and learning through encounters with projects. The works presented at the biennial display a variety of scales, techniques, media, processes, and temporalities that highlight several aspects of design as a project. With the strong curatorial text that underlies and organizes them, the biennial makes a convincing argument that education is the urgency of design, and that design is critical in learning and unlearning how we live and make things, how we communicate and build communities, how we create environments and respond to changes. The biennial will be up through November 4, 2018.
Chicago, in a bid to boost its tourism industry and cultural cachet, will host an international design exhibition next year modeled after the Venice Biennale, which every two years draws contributions from architects and artists from around the world. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the Chicago Architecture Biennial Tuesday. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, Emanuel said he hopes to use the city’s reputation as a hub for modern architecture to encourage economic development:
"Obviously there's an economic benefit in tourism and travel. Chicago will continue to be seen worldwide as an epicenter of modern architecture… The real question is: Why wasn't Chicago doing this before?"The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the Graham Foundation will present the show, which will be based in the Chicago Cultural Center. The Chicago Architecture Foundation, whose annual Open House Chicago will coincide with the start of the initial biennial, will help coordinate the first exhibition, which is planned for October 1, 2015 through January 3, 2016. Oil company BP donated $2.5 million for the first show. Kamin reported that Emanuel personally solicited BP’s grant funding, and that the city’s still looking to raise $1.5 million more. While the Chicago event makes no secret of taking after its prestigious namesake in Venice, there will be several differences from that event, which reportedly drew more than 175,000 visitors in 2012. Admission to Chicago’s event will be free, and the show will not have national pavilions. It will have a theme, which has yet to be determined, and will seek to compete in an increasingly crowded field of international design exhibitions. Venice has mounted its exhibition 14 times in 34 years, deviating occasionally from its biennial schedule. If Chicago’s initial event is deemed a success, officials say they’ll duplicate it every two years. Joseph Grima, who co-curated the Istanbul biennial in 2012, and Graham Foundation Director Sarah Herda will co-direct the inaugural Chicago event. Another Chicago-based design curator, Zöe Ryan of the Art Institute of Chicago, is coordinating Istanbul’s next biennial, which will run concurrently with Chicago’s.