‘Are we human?’ is the urgent question posed by the third edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial, which is currently taking place in the city. Curated by academics Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, the Biennial showcases the responses of over 250 participants to a curatorial manifesto written by the duo.

‘Don’t think that the world of design belongs to designers,’ cautioned Wigley at the show’s opening last week. ‘It’s possible that designers are playing the smallest role in design today.' It's a theory that’s reflected in the diverse professions of the Biennal’s contributors, which as well as designers and architects, includes artists, scientists, labs, centres, institutes, theorists, film makers, historians, choreographers, NGOs and archaeologists.

Documenting the spread of the oil extraction industry across the planet through vast and highly detailed maps, the Territorial Agency’s ‘The Museum of Oil’ showcase considers the urgent and complex negotiation needed to wean ourselves from oil. Photography: courtesy of Territorial Agency

Their response to Colomina and Wigley’s invitation was a tidal wave of concepts and ideas that are divided into four ‘clouds’ or categories – body, planet, life and time – each one, the curators note, a broad enough topic to fill its own Biennial, yet all interconnecting.

The resulting showcase, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts with sponsorship from ENKA Foundation, Petkim and Vitra Global, spans five locations across the city with over 70 projects taking the visitor on a safari of ideas, that lurch from pressing global issues such as deforestation and the refugee crisis, to our troubling addiction to mobile devices. ‘The imprint of our species,’ the curators note, ‘is in every dimension of the environment.’

Despite the presence of pessimism and disaster, the showcase is an optimistic experience; a celebration of possibility, highlighting that design could, for once, be serious. ‘When life is difficult, that’s when you should talk about design; not when you’re feeling rich and you’re feeling relaxed and you need a new coffee pot to show to your friends,’ says Wigley. ‘You too could come up with your own response, perhaps you disagree with almost everything you see here and you’ll start to generate a new idea, and if there are new ideas in the mind of the visitor, we would be very honoured.’

TAGS: GLOBAL FAIR GUIDE 2016