The future of design now

Adopting the manifesto format, the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, directed by Deniz Ova and curated by Zoë Ryan, acts as a platform for the experimentation of new thoughts.

Istanbul Design Biennale
A biennial that speaks of manifestos is, crucially, one that speaks of ideas. This exhibition project turns proclamations and statements into 3D objects or develops them via an array of multimedia forms.
Istanbul Design Biennale
Opening: the manifesto by Bless. Above: the project by Atelier Manferdini

The ideas analyse the present in order to imagine the future. “The Future Is Not What It Used to Be”is the title (drawn from words of the poet Paul Valéry) of the second Istanbul Design Biennial.

Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), the Biennial is directed by the young Deniz Ova and this edition is curated by Britain’s Zoë Ryan of the Art Institute of Chicago, aided in a process that has lasted more than a year by Meredith Carruthers. Ryan’s biennial asks many questions but also provides answers. The manifesto format is a courageous one that offers alternative manifestos in the form of objects, fashion accessories, food, menus, maps, buildings, systems and services.

Atelier Bow-Wow
Atelier Bow-Wow

This Biennial started with an open call that selected 53 projects by 200 designers from more than 20 countries, all asked to answer the same question: “What is the future now?” The ensuing exhibition is arranged over the five floors of the Galata Greek Primary School (2,300 sqm, in the Karakoy neighbourhood) and couples each room with a statement on the designs presented, clarifying or stressing their intentions. In a period such as the current one, do we need manifestos, explicit announcements that steer the world in a precise direction? Or that interpret it?

If the purpose of biennials, wherever they may be, is to act as a platform for the experimentation of new thoughts, a zone free from ties and constraints in which to express a personal vision then Zoë Ryan has hit the bulls-eye, successfully creating the right atmosphere and a curious desire to look at the present, narrate it and use it as a harbinger of a better future; the adjective employed may be trite but serves here to convey a universal wish. The two curators have certainly channelled an enthusiastic approach and abundant passion into this ambitious yet delicate operation. At a time when geopolitical balances are once again being questioned, it is perhaps no coincidence that Istanbul, a historic frontier between two worlds, has opened a biennial that looks to the present and imagines the future.

Sissel Tolaas, Smellscape
Sissel Tolaas, Smellscape
The curator has adopted a very international stance, with familiar names such as Formafantasma with Openmanifesto,  Bless with an electronic keyboard operated by punch bags and a sleep project by the architect Jurgen Mayer. There is also work on the city itself as Atelier BOW-WOW has reproduced the busy Galata Bridge in pencil, one of many; Norwegian designer Sissel Tolaas has always analysed odours and here explored those of districts in the vicinity of the Biennial venue and condensed them for visitors, who were asked to smell them and translate their olfactory perception into just one word, written down and shared. The result is a collection of words converted by the designer into an interactive smell and language project entitled NASALO Dictionary of Smell.
Arctic Perspective Initiative
Arctic Perspective Initiative
The Biennial also sounds out couples’ relationships in Manifesting the Look of Love by the Haelo Design collective. Special software determines the intensity of romantic relationships by scanning lovers’ gazes. The technology tracks the pupil and traces a map, which is then transferred onto paper and produces an object. Depending on the intensity of the gaze, it comes up with paper (one year), ceramic (20 years) and silver (25 years) wedding anniversaries.
Jacob de Baan, Giorgio Caione e Rianne Koens
Jacob de Baan, Giorgio Caione and Rianne Koens

This project’s statement is: “It’s time for design to get personal”. On the mezzanine, Elena Manferdini, from Bologna but based in Los Angeles, reproduces digital-still-life-painting in large format with her Still Life to Living Pictures. “The Exhibition as Manifesto” section is exemplary: a selection of 13 influential exhibitions in the history of design (1956-2007) including “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” (1972), “Memphis” (1981) and “Man transForm” (1976). As well as statements recited in large letters in each room of the exhibition, and in the best political-propaganda tradition that sees the manifesto as the first step towards the public circulation of a particular thought, this Istanbul Tasarim Bienali also holds a weekly radio show.  Everything works towards assigning design the difficult task of providing answers for the future.

Not far from the Greek School, the SALT Galata cultural centre is the venue for the “From England with Love” exhibition, with an impressive installation by Ismail Saray, a tangle of strings created in 2014 during his residency at the Saint Martin’s School of Art.

J Mayer H and partners
J Mayer H and partners
Finally, at the Rodeo Gallery, the “Doings on Time and Light” exhibition (closes 13 December) presents a duet (successful thanks to the curator Sylvia Kouvali) between Cypriot Michael Anastassiades and Greece’s Eftihis Patsourakis. The outstanding and subtly elegant Anastassiades has produced a limited edition of oak shelves, focusing on overlapping geometries and simple harmonies, as well as a play of lamp reflections accompanied by mirrors and round luminescent bodies that seem to hover in the air. His works are coupled with small Neo-Realist paintings by Patsouraki reproducing the “not great” photographs typically found in old-fashioned family albums.
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Michael Anastassiades e Eftihis Patsourakis alla RODEO Gallery
Michael Anastassiades and Eftihis Patsourakis at the RODEO Gallery. Photo © CHROMA

until 14 December 2014
2nd Istanbul Design Biennial
The future is not what it used to be
Biennale Hub: Galata Primary Greek School, Istanbul

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