Istanbul Design Biennial

Article by Alison Hugill // October 22, 2012

The weekend of October 13th marked the opening of the first Istanbul Design Biennial in the Beyoğlu district of Turkey’s largest city. Working from the theme ‘Imperfection,’ the curators Emre Arolat and Joseph Grima developed two separate exhibitions highlighting over 100 projects by international designers and architects.

Arolat’s show ‘Musibet’ at Istanbul Modern – a former warehouse building with a view of the Bosphorus, converted in 2004 by Tabanlioglu Architects – explores and critiques urban transformation and social housing projects in Istanbul and several other sample cities. The lower floor of the 1,400 square-meter museum displays an immense variety of industrial and urban designs, scale models and short films by architects and designers, all dealing creatively with the social dimensions of city planning and newly emerging technological innovations. Among these, a project by Turkish architectural theorist Esra Akcan entitled ‘Urban Renewal and its Discontents: Kreuzberg-IBA’84/87’ looks at the effects of ‘careful urban renewal’ (IBA Alt) and ‘critical reconstruction’ (IBA Neu) on the changing population of Berlin’s Kreuzberg in the 1980s. The IBA (Internationale Bauausstellung Berlin) was an exhibition showcasing the designs of many international architects, including Peter Eisenman. Akcan’s critical study of the Kreuzberg IBA aims to give voice to the immigrant populations that settled in the neighbourhood at a time when these crucial urban policies were being formulated and to examine the reality of the geopolitical divides at work.

In contrast to the detailed research and mappings displayed at Musibet, Grima’s exhibition ‘Adhocracy’ at the Galata School venue, as the name suggests, proved more raw and experimental. Highlighting open source, DIY and process-based design strategies, Adhocracy “is a reference to the move away from the dominance of the bureaucratic model of organization, typical of the industrial era, towards an approach that embraces bottom-up innovation.” An example of this principle at work, the installation Kopf Kino by ON/OFF (an experimental group that began in Berlin and now spans many different cities with an ever-changing flow of actors and resources) is a monolithic mobile projection unit that, as if of its own accord, appears at night in dense urban areas. Passersby can discover for themselves how the Kopf Kino works while simultaneously interacting with each other and the materiality of the cityscape. For the duration of the biennial, the Kopf Kino will be set up on the top floor of the Galata School, accompanied by footage of the unit in action earlier this month on the streets of Beyoğlu.

For the Adhocracy exhibit, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes contributed a selection of musical instruments fashioned out of old weapons. In 2008, Reyes organized ‘Palas por Pistolas’, a campaign wherein people living in Culiacan, a city with high levels of gun violence, could donate illegal weapons in exchange for coupons redeemable on household appliances. Reyes transformed the guns he received in to fully functional orchestral instruments. The opening weekend of the biennial included a boat cruise on the Bosphorus, with a surprise musical performance by a group playing some of Reyes’ instruments. Fascinating and inventive items like these instruments and other homemade designs put together largely with found material can be seen at the Istanbul Design Biennial until December 12th, 2012.

Video by Andrew Bateman and ON/OFF at the 1st Istanbul Design Biennale

Alison Hugill has a Masters degree in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Alison is the Arts & Culture Editor of Review 31 and is based in Berlin.

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