As the Design Biennial returns to Istanbul for its second edition, the capital of Turkish culture is hosting a glut of projects selected by this year's appointed head, Zoë Ryan. The chair and curator of the Art Institute of Chicago has worked with associate curator Meredith Carruthers on the six-week event, held over five floors of the Galata Greek Primary School and at several locations across the city.
Ryan's curatorial starting point was a statement made by French poet Paul Valéry in 1937 – 'The future is not what it used to be' – which she found just as relevant today as 80 years ago. But her inspiration wasn't only borne from the significance of time; geography played a role. 'The city is going through a deep transformation,' says the British-born curator, 'so it is fitting to be here talking about the future and the changing of ideas.' What attracts her to design biennials, she explains, is their nature to look at the future, a concept borrowed from art biennials. The fact that they are detached from institutions and run independently allows for a proper collision and exchange of ideas.
To answer Ryan's question – 'What is the future now?' – her showcase develops through four departments, inspired by academies and retail spaces. It is intended to be a personal and physical journey through the building. The circulation system, devised by Istanbul design agency Superpool in collaboration with Project Projects, guides visitors through the departments in a crescendo of complex ideas and solutions.
The journey through the neo-classical building starts with the Personal Department, an overview of everyday issues pertinent to our personal lives. Further up, the Norms and Standards Department includes a series of projects questioning the status quo, inviting visitors to rethink daily rituals. Perhaps the most enticing of the four departments, it allows visitors to interact with a variety of installations, from a punching print machine to a nap room.
The Resource Department follows with a series of practical installations that explore odors and gastronomy and includes a reading room designed by Istanbul-based duo Can and Asli Altay.
The tour ends with the Civil Relations department, where stronger social themes of architecture, ethics and urban and rural landscapes are explored and illustrated. 'The scope of the biennial is open ended,' says Ryan. 'It is meant to encourage discussion and debate and to understand what's going on in the here and now.'
The city seems to have responded positively to this message, with local galleries partaking in the design fest by exhibiting the best of Turkish and international design. The small apartment-gallery Rodeo dedicated its space to wooden shelves and lights by Cyprus-born, London-based designer Michael Anastassiades.
Nearby at Istanbul '74 is a mind-blowing collection of 3D-printed lamps by Turkish-born, Chicago-based designer Defne Koz. Combining local craftsmanship with design, European initiative Glass is Tomorrow showcases the fruits of a workshop held in Denizli, southwest Turkey, with projects by Autoban and Nigel Coates, among others.