Many would say that we are now living in the era of design, that at no other point in history has design been so valued globally or permeated our lives so thoroughly as it does today. Therefore, it seems all the more timely that the IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts) has introduced the first Istanbul Design Biennial, to be held this year from October 13 to December 12.
Istanbul is now firmly placed on the cultural map and is, with every passing year, an increasingly global city with a dynamic arts and design scene that continues to attract artists and art appreciators from all around the world. Indeed, Istanbul is now considered to be one of the hottest destinations for contemporary art. The catalyst for this transformation can be traced back to the opening of the Istanbul Modern Museum in 2004, Turkey’s first private museum to organize modern and contemporary art exhibitions.
IKSV Chairman Bülent Eczacıbaşı, one of the most prominent names in the local business and arts world, says that the Design Biennial aims to showcase Istanbul as “one of the most inspiring cities in the world, in terms of design and providing an alternate approach to design.” He goes on to say that the Biennial presents design as a cultural element that is in contact with every aspect of our daily life.
The theme for the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial is “Imperfection,” which was suggested by Deyan Sudjic, the Director of the Design Museum in London and a member of the Istanbul Design Biennial advisory board. Sudjic explains why he suggested this theme, saying that there is nowhere better to explore imperfection than in Istanbul, a city of infinite layers, charged with the vitality that comes from engaging with rapid urban, social, and cultural change. “Istanbul as a city is far from perfect, yet it is one of the most exhilarating and dynamic centers in the world. Its special quality is that it makes so much from the imperfect, the inexact and the provisional.” He says that this theme helps celebrate Istanbul’s distinctive qualities, which inspire artists while also telling the world about Istanbul. The imperfection theme will also serve to encapsulate the wider discussion about the nature of design in the contemporary world.
Özlem Yalım Özkaraoğlu, the Istanbul Design Biennial director, says that as the design and creative industries have become more important in Turkey over the last 10 years, there was an increasing need for a locally-organized biennial, particularly from the point of view of the local design community. Özkaraoğlu points out that the biennial has been organized to promote the importance of design in production, economy, culture, and quality of life.
Indeed, Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has experienced rapid growth and change in recent years. The bullish expansion of the economy has highlighted the importance of innovation and design, and stimulated the development of creative industries. Therefore, one of the Biennial’s primary objectives is to change the international perception of Istanbul from a city known for its tradition and history to a city known for its dynamic arts scene, and to celebrate its creative potential. The Istanbul Design Biennial will consist of two exhibitions, exploring a wide range of fields, from urban, industrial, and graphic design to architecture, fashion, and new media design. Parallel to the Biennial exhibitions, many events, such as workshops and round table meetings, will be held, giving emerging and established artists and designers the chance to meet and share ideas.
The two official exhibitions of the Biennial are curated by Emre Arolat and Joseph Grima. Arolat is very well-known in the Istanbul architecture and design world, having taught at several universities and won many national and international awards. Joseph Grima is a Milan-based architect, editor, writer and curator. He is the editor of Domus, the internationally renowned magazine of contemporary architecture, and his work has been presented at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, Experimenta, and the New Museum in New York City, among others. Musibet, the exhibition curated by Arolat, will be held at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, and has two sub-exhibits: “the Aestheticization of Context” and “Anti-Context in Design along the Axis of the Grand Transformation,” putting the spotlight on Istanbul’s current urban architecture and design. This exhibition serves to critique the city’s current urban transformation, particularly the gentrification process taking place in many districts, which have been the source of considerable tension and controversy. It also examines the current public housing projects and social tensions that have arisen due to these projects in Istanbul, and compares them with similar projects taking place in the rest of the world. Furthermore, the exhibition will discuss Istanbul’s local and global actors, newly-accepted universals, new technologies, and finally, the parallels between architectural and fashion design.
Arolat states, “The backbone of the Istanbul Design Biennial...will be informed by two design approaches which, however much they may seem to be contrary at first sight, nevertheless reveal a surprising convergence owing to their tremendous topicality and pervasiveness.” Arolat went on to explain that the first of these tendencies is “Context & Specificity,” and the second “The Aestheticization of Acontextuality & Innovation.” He says that one of the primary objectives of this exhibition is to critique the “world of the spectacle,” which gave birth to, and continues to feed, these two poles. “What is perhaps even more important is the potential of this critical position to reveal urban and architectural design as a brand new domain of liberation,” says Arolat.
Meanwhile, Joseph Grima’s Adhocracy exhibition will be held at the Galata Greek Primary school, a historical building whose neo-classic architectural style dates back to the late 19th century. Grima defines adhocracy as the opposite of bureaucracy, adding that he considers the Istanbul Design Biennial as more of a laboratory than an exhibition platform. He says that his goal is to turn his exhibition into a stage for the revolutionary changes that are currently taking place in the design world. With this exhibition, Grima looks to integrate the user in the design and manufacturing process. He says the exhibition will have a dynamic, complex, and innovative structure, which challenges the traditional relations between designer, user, manufacturer, and slow bureaucratic processes.
Grima’s goal is to highlight the political aspects of design that are often overlooked, and he states: “Since its inception as a discipline of industrialization and modernity, design has come to influence—or even define—almost every facet of contemporary existence...From cities to typefaces via architecture, vehicles, objects, interfaces, and infrastructural systems, acts of design permeate our lives almost to the point of saturation. Design has become so ubiquitous as to have almost become invisible, subsumed into everyday life to the point we forget it is also inevitably a political activity with far-reaching social implications.”
Istanbul will host many other side exhibitions, in addition to these official Biennial exhibitions. Throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, students of urban design, architecture, industrial design, new media design, and fashion from various universities in Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir organized workshops, competitions, and special projects within the Biennial theme. All projects and products from these workshops will be exhibited during the Biennial.
The first Istanbul Design Biennial is without a doubt an event of major importance for Istanbul’s design scene. This biennial aims to create dialogue between students, architects, and other players, and change the way that design is viewed. For the organizers, it is also just as important to showcase the local point of view and share it with international audiences, with the belief that the dive