4th Istanbul Design Biennial. A blend of design, education and daily life

“A School of Schools” is not only a collection of projects which offer alternatives to traditional design education, but it is presented as a permanent point of debate.

Istanbul Design Biennial

“‘A School of Schools’ is a bricolage of projects, impressions, ideas and opinions that have conflicted and corroborated to actively, subconsciously and retroactively shape an educational web”. The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial curated by Jan Bolen, with Vera Sacchetti and Nathine Botha, is much more than a simple catalyst for experimental projects which offer alternatives to traditional design education. The exhibition presents a wide range of actions, documents, collections of exhibits, workshops and drawings. Examination is made of regulations and languages, units of measurement and standards, relations and performances, instruments and interfaces both physical and digital, all to expand on the notion of how/in what way/with whom/why/when learning can take place. While for the curators of the last edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial (“Are We Human”), design is always a human project, for this biennial “everything and everywhere is school, and every single interaction we have with design is pedagogical”. [2].

Instead of concentrating the works in one single location – as was the case in the previous three editions – the event has been distributed over six of the main cultural institutes in the city. In order to pass from one school to another, we are “forced” to pass through the historical district of Galata, which was founded by Genoa during the time of the Maritime Republics (14th century) and which reflects the characteristic lanes of the Italian city. Walking is the easiest way to take in the research-rich content and the installations on display.

Mae-ling Lokko, Nana Ofori-Atta Ayim, Selassie Ataditka, Gustavo Crembil, Palaver + Palaver, veduta dell’installazione, Studio-X, 4. Istanbul Design Biennial, 2018
Mae-ling Lokko, Nana Ofori-Atta Ayim, Selassie Ataditka, Gustavo Crembil, Palaver + Palaver, installation view, Studio-X, 4. Istanbul Design Biennial, 2018

Rather than creating a defined itinerary, setting out a trajectory which indicates the future of education, this biennial proposes a cloud of experiences in which it is not easy to identify the confine between design, education and daily life. The task of the curators is therefore to aggregate and contaminate the projects presented during the open call (with more than 700 proposals evaluated). In this sense, the Classrooms are six intimate spaces distributed among the six locations of the exhibition, offering – for the entire duration of the biennial – a rich programme of events, discussions, actions, laboratories and mental exercises. These are meeting points which are presented as catalysts for horizontal discussion. It is no coincidence that the most cited philosopher during the first few days was the Austrian Ivan Illich (1926-2002) who, in the famous work Deschooling society wrote: “The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern”.

In an era of weak and distant relations, of interactions and sharing on social networks, physical encounter is more important than ever, and this biennial has the benefit of being able to catalyse young energies. It is the kind of platform for dialogue which Illich hopes could replace institutional school. There are no grand lectures held by archistars or spectacular installations, but simply a strong desire to discuss matters related to design and reality. This passion is difficult to express on Instagram and can only be felt by taking part in the scheduled events.

New South, If Algae Mattered..., veduta dell’installazione, Arter, 4. Istanbul Design Biennial, 2018
New South, If Algae Mattered..., installation view, Arter, 4. Istanbul Design Biennial, 2018

Creating a network of players and varied forms of knowledge is not enough: the range, the capillarity and the form of these networks are the factors which determine its quality. One only needs to consider the European Erasmus project, which allows for the mobility of hundreds of thousands of young Europeans, but which – due to distinct policy choices – excludes North African countries. A choice of this kind, although less evident, is as powerful as the compulsory closing of access points to the Old Continent. One fault of this biennial is perhaps the uneven geographical distribution of the participants, which is too Eurocentric. There are very few projects from Africa and South America, and perhaps fewer participants from Turkey than the Netherlands. Decolonising education is not only a slogan to be used at the conferences (maybe held by prestigious Western academic institutions), but a real and urgent need. According to the Indian professor Priyamvada Gopal: “To decolonise and not just diversify curriculums is to recognise that knowledge is inevitably marked by power relations.”

Thus – as this biennial teaches us – we need to constantly upset everything, starting with ourselves. Provoke doubt and curiosity, enter into the crux of questions and accept complexity. Everything is education, everything is design, everything is politics.

[1] e [2]:
Jan Boelen, Nathine Botha, Vera Sacchetti, A school of schools: doubting a biennial, doubting design
Priyamvada Gopal, Yes, we must decolonise: our teaching has to go beyond elite white men. Theguardian.com
Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram