We’re living in pluriverse. That’s why A School of Schools is not one school, not one approach, but many approaches. There will be institutions, collectives, street learning, and more. It's more about expressing a certain attitude then it will be about the way of learning itself.
Interview: Bilgen Coşkun & Dilek Öztürk
How do you see Istanbul in relation to the global design scene?
What I observed is that the design scene here in Istanbul is not really connected with the rest of the world. Of course, there are links but it is not really networked with the global industry. I see an opportunity for the biennial to build bridges through partnerships, collaborations and connections between Turkish and international designers.
During my visit to the 1st Istanbul Design Biennial, I noticed that the Turkish academies were less than a kilometre away from the main exhibition area in the Greek School. The international crowd was in the Greek School and the Turkish crowd was somewhere else. Where could they meet? There was no meeting point as such. I hope that we can at least create an exchange through the processes of making, producing and designing.
The Design Biennial has set itself a mission to open these kinds of debates and discussions in order to break this detachment in the long-term.
My intention is to achieve that by expanding the concept of the Biennial to be more than just an exhibition. I could easily present your work next to my work and then another person’s work, but that would not really contribute to real connections. We would shake each other's hands, we would have a drink at the reception, and we would say goodbye. If we had to do the project together in an environment where we learn from each other, then our connection will be on a deeper level. It is far more likely that we would meet up again after we’ve already worked and developed a project together.
It is similar to what I did in curating the Ljubljana Biennial too; not with a school model but in another way. After all these years, people are still working together, they are still in contact, and still doing exhibitions together. This is a great thing in these times because, despite all of our technology, it is not easy to develop a meaningful connection with somebody who is on the other side of the world.
Only if there is a common ground to meet on.
Yes, there needs to be a context, otherwise one visits another country as a tourist. This is why we formulated the eight themes as contexts to bring people together around shared passions.
How did you structure these themes? Do you think these themes are the most relevant topics?
No. I find them relevant probably because they were just popping up, and these are some of the fundamental frames with which we look at the world and structure our knowledge. From maps to time, from disasters to customs… all these things are defining our everyday life. We observed these frames while we sat together, spoke with people here in Istanbul and beyond, and by simply looking around us. Now we would like to link theory and practice, past and present.
For instance, the Pera Museum has a really wonderful collection of measuring devices that we would like to introduce to contemporary designers who are dealing with quantification in new ways, and then see what sort of measurement tools can evolve from this context. The school will be a laboratory where we can rethink the way we measure in a new way. That’s what I want to see coming out. Past, present and future.
As you mentioned, “A School of Schools” feels like a laboratory. What kind of experimentation do you have in mind?
Firstly, if I did have something in mind, I would not tell you because I don’t want to impose something. Maybe you come with something that is ten times better than I have in mind. Secondly, of course, I have ideas about it.
Let’s talk about what you need for experimentation.
Diversity and variety are essential. I think it is very important that we bring different people together; not only designers talking to other designers. I would like to involve people like scientist, historians, sociologists, engineers, cooks… I don’t want to know the destination. I also don’t want to know which road they are going to take to get there, nor how they can fail. Bringing certain people and contexts together, and setting a deadline is what experimentation needs. What is important for the Biennale, is that in the end, you are able to tell, share, and translate what you did, and the kind of journey, to a larger audience.
The application and participation process of the 4th Design Biennial differentiates it from the previous ones. What was your motivation behind this?
The main motivation is my concern for education in general. With design education, it will be 99 years after the Bauhaus, and we are still doing more or less the same. The world has changed so much in the past 100 years through economic and technological developments. My question is this: Can’t we come up with something else?
Every year we see hundreds of portfolios submitted to the Design Academy Eindhoven. Students from all over the world want to come there and to do their Masters. They are really boring. Everything, from content and style to solutions and graphic presentation, is all the same, whether the students are from Europe, China, the US or South America. It is like one rendered globalised work and it is culturally poor. This is frightening. We have all become copy-paste designers with standardised products. This is education by checklist, reproducing an expected reality. That’s my frustration. We get clones, we don't get people who can think to come up with proposals by themselves. I really don’t want that future. For me, design is always about projecting something in the future.
Speaking of projection, can you say that this biennial is a projection of design schools of the future?
I really believe in several different models at the same time. I don’t believe in the one big new start. I believe in the old models and different new alternative models all together creating new approached and new ways of dealing with realities. We’re living in pluriverse. That’s why A School of Schools is not one school, not one approach, but many approaches. There will be institutions, collectives, street learning, and more. It's more about expressing a certain attitude then it will be about the way of learning itself.
Photo credits, from left to right: Istanbul Map Blueprint, 1901 / Map of Antartica, American Geographical Society, 1956 / Manufactuur 3.0 installation view at Z33, 2016
All images: Courtesy of Kerem Bayer Archive
The people you invite to this biennial can also shape the structure.
That’s why it is quite open. As I said earlier, I don’t want to prescribe anything. The more ambiguous and not very clear the brief, the more people can project their own ideas into it. Then it becomes interesting, then the imagination starts. If I say: OK, we are going to solve the Istanbul earthquake situation and we are going to do that by restructuring public space, making sure that we put boats everywhere so people can flee when the earthquake is coming…
…the brief kills the imagination.
Exactly. Maybe we’ll have balloons and fly over Istanbul and maybe what we present in the biennial should be the start of a conversation rather than coming up with the solution. There is not just one solution; there are many solutions.
Students were asking if it is art or design or architecture, or what is it? I really don’t care. It is a discussion that prevents us from starting the work. Rather than asking if this is art or design, let’s work with it, let’s do something with it without discussing the situation the whole time.
We would like to ask a question about your ways of disrupting design education in Design Academy Eindhoven. You are the head of the Social Design programme in the Masters course, and you’ve mentioned that there is not such a thing as ‘social design’.
It’s the same thing. Probably I had an idea then, but it is changing every day because I get new insights. I could say: “This is social design.” Then they would say “OK, yes we’ll note that down” and then it would immediately critiqued. I don’t want believe in pinning things down like that. First of all, I question myself all the time. Do we need to have the social design? In fact, we don’t need it. All design is social. No design is social design. Who cares? It’s not needed. Products and objects are not needed. We need design to take care of human beings in a variety of cultural, political, social, and historical situations.
It should already be what matters in design.
It should be! But due to how society has evolved, this aspect disappeared. You can always say a product and a design project consist of three elements. For the economic part, you need to know what is your market, what is the target… You have to sell it. Everything is like this. You need the craftsmanship and technology. There is no discussion about that. Even if it is software or something very immaterial and intangible there is always the materialising aspect. But the bigger social, societal, environmental and cultural aspects have become forgotten. Sometimes an engineer or a designer just start doing something with a certain technology and come up with a gadget. Why do we need it? If technology is the answer, what was the question? You see a lot of bullshit that we don’t need popping up because of a certain economic logic that doesn’t make sense. Do we need it to live or survive or make our lives better? These are the fundamental questions.