Take a peek into the future of design

By Victoria Khroundina | November 12, 2014

Istanbul is determined to prove itself as a contemporary art and design stronghold, and the second edition of the Design Biennial takes the city in its desired direction. The curator, Zoë Ryan, believing that ‘design is inextricably linked to every aspect of our daily lives’, chose the future of design as the focus of this year's Biennial. Ryan uses the idea of the ‘manifesto’ to discuss ways in which it can be used to frame ideas, and to explore the new forms it might take in the digital age.

The main exhibition venue is the Galata Greek Primary School, with a few more exhibits at Antrepo No (across the road, next to Istanbul Modern). The former is cleverly set up with each floor acting as a separate ‘department’, each exploring, as their names suggest, the role of design in different aspects of our lives: broadcast, personal, norms and standards, resource and civil relations. It is easy to navigate through the venue as the organisers have done a good job with the layout. Splattered in black on the white walls, slogans such as ‘Will you need to sleep in the future?’, ‘Technology is not magic’ and ‘Can you smell the future?’ create a vibrant feel.

All kinds of projects spanning all aspects of design – from interiors, fashion and urban to technology – are on show. Designs from the fashion-forward duo Dice Kayek are featured in a film directed by Marie Schuller (watch here, main image). The colours of Dice Kayek's gorgeous designs – reds, pale blues, yellows and blacks – are juxtaposed with scenes of snow and surreal LED lighting to create an experimental narrative full of movement.

The US company Haelo Design, founded by Helen Maria Nugent and Ron Kirkpatrick, presents its project ‘Manifesting the Look of Love’ – a proposed service that literally tries to capture the look of love. Eye-scanning software scans ‘portraits’ of couples’ eye patterns as they look at each other. These portraits are then used to produce objects from materials connected with anniversaries – paper, ceramics, silver etc – which couples can give to each other as gifts. Welcome to the future, indeed.

The Ankara-born Meriç Canatan and Cyprian-born Fatosh Erhuy have created a line of accessories called ‘Birdy’, investigating the power of costume and clothing to communicate identity. For the Biennial the pair transformed military accessories such as helmets, gas masks and kneepads into ‘relics’ from the future – the year 2214 to be precise – when all civilians have become soldiers. The topic is sombre but the use of a peacock’s plumage highlights the way almost anything can be turned into fashion.

'The Repair Society' project, by Cynthia Hathaway, Gabriele Orapallo and Joanna van der Zanden, is a continuation of the ‘Repair Manifesto’ project originally launched in 2009 at Platform 21, Amsterdam. The manifesto ‘Stop recycling and start repeating’ explores issues of active repurposing, social sustainability and design durability. The main question is: what would society look like if we assigned a central role to repair?

Gastronomika, a collective of architects, industrial designers and chefs based in Istanbul, takes a food trend, the new Anatolian kitchen, and imagines its future. The collective has created a domestic kitchen, with prototypes of appliances emphasising ways that traditional methods and tools from Anatolia can be adapted for the future.

The Dutch designers Jacob de Baan and Rianne Koens have come together to create furniture and objects that question what constitutes ‘good’ design and how we might recognise it when we see it. The Italian curator Giorgio Caione asks audiences to comment on features of the designs on show – their aesthetic, functionality and quality – as part of an ongoing survey.

The Berlin and Paris-based company Bless (originally a fashion house), with Heiss and Ines Kaag as the designers, has produced a project which blurs the boundaries between work and exercise in the office. A computer with a reimagined keyboard, with punchbags and pads of various sizes in place of keys, aims to turn typing into a full-body experience. Unfortunately, the keys didn’t actually work when I visited, but the guide assured me they usually do. Perhaps this prototype needs more work, but the idea is clever and takes the question of work/life balance to a whole new level.

‘Nap Gap’ is another cool project, by the German designer Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, looking at creating spaces for people to take naps wherever and whenever they like. A pink room with comfortable pillows, carpet and a sound system emitting ‘pink noise’ (a noise-cancelling sound frequency often misnamed ‘white noise’) provides an opportunity for a more restful sleep. The installation aims to comment on the increasingly elastic boundary between work and play time, and questions why the same principles can’t be applied to sleep and waking time.

On the terrace – with a stunning view to boot – are works created as part of the ‘How to do too Kadıköy’ project. The collective 72 Hour Urban Action and Tasarım Atölyesi Kadıköy collaborated with Kadıköy residents to produce urban furniture from easily sourced or discarded materials. The aim is to encourage people to make things for their public spaces, while recycling materials within their communities.

The venue is packed at weekends, so try to visit during the week, if you can. There is also a rich accompanying programme of panels, interviews, film screenings, workshops (pre-registration required), design walks, lectures and parallel events – too many to go into in detail here. But the good news is that all are free and there’s something for every design lover. I’d suggest picking up a programme booklet for TL1 from the Galata Greek Primary School reception. There are also themed tours available, taking you through neighbourhoods and looking at architecture and urban design, with visits to notable design shops. These tours cost TL35 and are listed in the booklet.

The Biennial runs until December 14, 2014.

All pics, except for Bless, by Ali Güler. Bless pic by Nomad Creatives.

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