The Politics of Design

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Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, the accompanying publication to the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition. 

I contributed to the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition, Victor Papanek: The Politics of Designwith not one but two pieces. One, an interview with Critical Making and Disobedient Electronics author Garnet Hertz, and another, an essay co-written with Jan Boelen on how the spirit of Papanek lives on in the work of several contemporary designers. The publication is impressive and gathers the voices of many luminaries and experts on Papanek and his significance. I’m happy to be among such incredible authors! You can find out more about the book in the e-shop here.

Convivial Tools

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I was thrilled to be part of the Design Museum’s Convivial Tools symposium, which re-examined the legacy and work of the late Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, focusing particularly on his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality. Illich argued that the nature of modern ‘tools’, from machines to schools, had the effect of making people dependent and undermined their own natural abilities. What he called “convivial tools” were those that encouraged people to think for themselves and be more socially engaged.

Convivial Tools was a programme of talks, debates and workshops exploring new strategies for a more cooperative society. Using Ivan Illich’s concept of “conviviality”, it brought together designers, artists, media theorists, curators, and social thinkers from diverse fields to examine current tools and technologies that encourage alternative modes of production and social relations.

I was happy to discuss the “de-schooling” facets of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, and to take part in a day of incredible discussions and insights.

Making the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial

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It was a pleasure and an honor to go back to my alma mater, SVA’s D-Crit department, to kick-off this year’s Fall lecture series and talk about my work in the past years, with a focus on the making of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. All my thanks go to Program Chair Molly Heintz and all the D-Crit students, alumni and family. Always such a joy to be back in my New York home.

Design as Learning

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Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader, designed by Offshore Studio and published by Valiz. Image by Offshore Studio.

On the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I edited the accompanying publication, Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader. The volume was beautifully designed by Zurich-based Offshore Studio (as was the striking visual identity of the whole biennial, explored here in detail) and is published jointly by IKSV and Valiz. The Reader seeks to expand on the many narratives of the biennial and offers a series of critical reflections on the past and present of design education, with contributions by Danah Abdulla, Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha, Corinne Gisel, João Ferreira, Naho Kubota, Nina Paim and myself. Additionally, the book features interviews with Zeynep Celik Alexander, Claudia Mareis, Peter Land and Nelly Ben Hayoun, contextualizing issues on the past and present states of design education. And finally, a series of conversations with participants in the biennial looks at ways to approach design education today. Interviewees include Åbäke, FABB (Burcu Biçer Saner, Efe Gözen), Navine G. Kahn-Dossos, Ebru Kurbak, Mae-ling Lokko, Studio Folder, SulSolSal (Hannes Bernard and Guido Giglio), and Pinar Yoldaş. Below the back cover blurb:

Why do design? What is design for? These are forward-looking questions for a creative discipline that seems more slippery to define than ever. In a world of dwindling natural resources, exhausted social and political systems, and an overload of information there are many urgent reasons to reimagine the design discipline, and there is a growing need to look at design education. Learning and unlearning should become part of an on-going educational practice. We need new proposals for how to organise society, how to structure our governments, how to live with, not against, the planet, how to sift fact from fiction, how to relate to each other, and frankly, how to simply survive.
The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and this publication Design as Learning ask: can design and design education provide these critical ideas and strategies?

Spaces of Exception and other formats

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Can Altay presenting at the Spaces of Exception roundtables during the opening weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

I was thrilled to be able to curate the public program of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, as part of my role as a member of the biennial’s curatorial team. As a crucial part of our understanding of the “expanded” character we wanted to give the biennial, the public program was an active and intense part of the biennial’s effort, testing a variety of formats and experimenting with elements of duration, complexity and materialization. Taking place across the six venues of the biennial, the public program was also a way to involve a large local audience and bring several international practitioners to Istanbul, including some international schools who became temporary residents of the exhibition spaces, adding to the show and creating new work while there. In this way, the public program sought to expand and amplify the discussions started by A School of Schools.

Continue reading Spaces of Exception and other formats

A School of Schools is now open

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Performance by Vivien Tauchmann during the press conference of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo Ilgin Erarslan Yanmaz.

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, has officially opened its doors to the public. The Orientation Days on 20 and 21 September – open to professionals and other accredited visitors – kicked-off an intense series of events and formats, complementing the main biennial exhibition, which extended over six venues in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. From 22 September to 4 November, A School of Schools will be free and open to the public.

The biennial brings together projects from more than 100 interdisciplinary practitioners from across the globe. Six of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions in the Beyoğlu district—Akbank Sanat, Yapı Kredi Culture Centre, Arter, Pera Museum, SALT Galata, Studio-X Istanbul—will transform into “schools” where new ideas in relation to expanded notions of design and its role in contemporary culture are explored.

Continue reading A School of Schools is now open

F for Film

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A still from an educational film.

For the latest edition of the Abecedarium, a format developed by Alexandra Midal, I was invited to intervene discussing the idea of educational films. At the event, which took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and focused mostly on the interactions between design and film, I chose to talk about some of the ways in which film and education are entangled, and focused on the rich material provided by the so-called “social guidance films” developed in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

My talk advocated that we should ask more from film as a learning space. We should ask for film as an enabler of learning spaces that are open and ambiguous, that open doors and not just close them; that open world-views and not just demand them. Of course, the Abecedarium is in itself this kind of space. Thank you to Alexandra and Sébastien Quequet for the invitation, it was fantastic to be part of this format!

One Woman Show

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Participants of the One Woman Show talk at the Swiss Design Awards 2018. 

I was honored to moderate the One Woman Show talk which took place at the Swiss Design Awards exhibition during Art Basel week. Organized by the Bundesamt für Kultur with the Zurich chapter of Ladies, Wine and Design, the event sought to explore how women work independently as designers and creative practitioners. Discussion topics circled around business and creative leadership, working independently, courage in creativity, work ethics and how to go from fear to freedom. We were lucky enough to be able to hear insights from multiple generations, with participants including Rosmarie Tissi, Cécile Feilchenfeldt, and several of the designers exhibiting as part of the Swiss Design Awards exhibition of this year. The conversation provided an interesting space for the sharing of many different stories, and it was fascinating to see how many of the challenges faced by previous generations are the same – albeit in different scales – as those of the practitioners of today. I am thankful for this opportunity, which was an incredible learning experience.

Towards expanded notions of design

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Talking about Marcelo Rosenbaum’s A Gente Transforma at the “Design Positions” lecture.

I was extremely happy to be invited to lecture as part of the “Design Positions” lecture series, organized by students of the Public Interest Design masters program at the Bergischen Universität Wuppertal. Taking place in public spaces around the city of Wuppertal, the lecture series seeks to create connections with the city and its inhabitants. The recently founded Public Interest Design program has high ambitions and it was fantastic to get to know some of the students and faculty. I took the chance to lecture about some of my recent projects and what I see as interesting directions for the design practice in the 21st century. Thanks for having me!

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2018

_DSC9042An impression of the atelier of Cécile Feilchenfeldt in Paris. Photo Marc Asekhame.

In May we presented the results of the latest volume developed for the Swiss Grand Award for Design series. The 2018 laureates of this award, given annually by the Swiss Confederation and the Federal Office of Culture, are Cécile Feilchenfeldt, Rosmarie Tissi and Felco. Once more I had the pleasure to interview all these wonderful practitioners and help make the book that celebrates their professional achievements. This year, the photos were by Marc Asekhame, and the graphic design by Krispin Hée.

A School of Schools at Milan Design Week

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Overview of ALCOVA just before the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial presentation

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, was present during Milan Design Week with a public presentation that took place at ALCOVA, amidst the School of Time installation by Z33. The director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Deniz Ova, introduced the ambitions for the event, and the curatorial team – Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha and myself – anticipated some details of the biennial, which will open next 22 September in Istanbul. Additionally, we also announced a collaboration with Z33, who will bring School of Time to Istanbul as part of the biennial. We are looking forward to seeing you all in Istanbul in the Fall!

Atelier LUMA at Palazzo Clerici

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Two of the Atelier LUMA studiolos at the Palazzo Clerici courtyard.

During the 2018 Milan Design Week, Atelier LUMA took over the courtyard of Palazzo Clerici, where, in four different studiolo structures, it presented recent outcomes of the material exploration and research they are actively conducting in Arles, in the South of France. I was happy to have worked on the project’s brochure, which was presented in Milan for the first time, and with a wonderful design by Andrea Anner, will continue to serve as a fantastic visual and conceptual introduction to the large-scale intervention that is taking shape in Arles. If you don’t follow the journey of Atelier LUMA, I warmly invite you to find out more on their website.

A School of Schools at Beyond Change

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A School of Schools, Part 1: Historical Perspectives at the Swiss Design Network’s Beyond Change conference. Photo Samuel Hanselmann, IXDM.

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, was present at the 2018 Swiss Design Network’s Beyond Change conference in the form of a double session exploring historical and contemporary design education alternatives in order to reflect on the role of design, knowledge, and global connectedness in our contemporary context. The sessions explored the complexities of past and present educational initiatives. The first session, titled Historical Perspectives, included presentations by James Langdon (speaking in the image above), Livia Rezende, and Zara Arshad. It focused on alternative design education initiatives taking place in South America, Western Europe and South Asia. Presentations explored diverse pedagogical positions and their spaces of agency, and reflected on what we can learn from them in our current times.

The second session, titled Contemporary Alternatives, included presentations by Prem Krishnamurthy, Merve Bedir and Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, transdisciplinary practitioners whose approach is reinforced and permeated by learning. We looked at a research institute that doubles as a community action center and laboratory of learning; a site-specific offshore laboratory and educational experiment that engages multiple educational institutions; and a year-long initiative for a space for production, presentation, and potential pedagogy. These practices create new knowledge, search for alternatives to implemented systems, and, with radical diversity, push the boundaries of design.

The sessions were moderated by Jan Boelen and myself, and sought to make public part of the research that will lead to the biennial opening later this year in Istanbul. Thank you to the organizers, and especially Nina Paim and Claudia Mareis, for the opportunity to bring the discussion surrounding A School of Schools to Basel!

 

Beyond Change

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I’m honored to have been working as a program consultant for the upcoming Beyond Change conference, organized by the Swiss Design Network. It will take place in Basel from 8-10 March, and will focus on socially and politically motivated design, fostering feminist, queer and decolonized perspectives. Within the star-studded and very ambitious program, the conference will include a double session curated in collaboration with the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, focusing on alternative design pedagogies in the past and today.  I will be moderating those debates alongside Jan Boelen.
It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with the conference organization team, Claudia Mareis, Nina Paim and Sarah Haug, and I’m very much looking forward to attending Beyond Change! Tickets are available here should you wish to do the same.

On the legacy of the UABB: A panel in Shenzhen

25498472_10155781804106826_4986438912659861256_nView of the panel discussion at the 7th UABB in Nantou Old Town, Shenzhen.

As part of a research trip for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, the biennial director Deniz Ova and I participated in a panel discussion at the opening weekend of the 7th UABB – Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-city Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism. Gathering Doreen Heng Liu, Ou Ning, Meng Yan, Liu Xiaodu, Hou Hanru, Jeffrey Johnson, Deniz Ova and myself, and moderated by Ole Bouman, the discussion centered on the vision behind the 7th UABB, titled “Cities Grow in Difference”, as well as how the format has changed and evolved throughout the previous editions. As international guests, we commented on how the UABB connects to other similar events and how the biennial format has changed in the past decade. It was an honor to sit among all these luminaries, and a very pleasant surprise to visit the UABB for the first time!

Values of Design: Problem solving

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The cover of “Values of Design”, designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio.

I was thrilled to contribute an essay on “Problem Solving” to Values of Design, the publication accompanying the opening of the V&A Shekou Gallery at Design Society, in Shenzhen, China. Curator Brendan Cormier invited me to further develop a series of reflections that greatly informed my masters thesis, and could be updated and revised for this tome, which features the voices of experts such as Jana Scholze, Catharine Rossi, Glenn Adamson, Penny Sparke, and Tamar Shafrir.  I was particularly lucky to be able to see the exhibition shortly after the opening, as well, which allowed me to better grasp the immense significance of such an exhibition and catalogue in the context of Shenzhen and South China.

Social Design at HKB Research Wednesday

DPP-y2OX0AA_dYxSpeaking at the Research Wednesday lectures series at the University of the Arts Bern. Photo Robert Lzicar

This Fall semester I had the opportunity to revisit my MFA Design Criticism thesis research, as I received an invitation to lecture at the Bern University of the Arts’ Research Wednesday series. Professor Arne Scheuermann kindly proposed I discussed my views on social design, and I was more than happy to revisit this research and update it with new insights following my work with several projects of this kind. Thank you for the invitation!

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial – A School of Schools

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A mechanism for a model of the motion of a comet. Engraving after B. Martin, courtesy the Wellcome collection.

I’m thrilled to be joining the curatorial team of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial as Associate Curator, alongside Jan Boelen and Nadine Botha. Titled A School of Schools, it is a multi-platform biennial that will use, test, and revise a variety of educational strategies to reflect on the role of design, knowledge, and global connectedness in contemporary Istanbul and beyond.

The first step in the year-long process of the biennial is an Open Call, open to both to learners and schools. For more information you can visit the biennial’s website at aschoolofschools.iksv.org. Hope to see you all in Istanbul in September 2018!

Research Day at ECAL

Research Day ECALAt the ECAL Research Day with Xavier Veilhan and Stéphanie Moisdon. Photo courtesy of Zoe Cooper.

I was thrilled to moderate a full day of conversations at ECAL in October, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EPFL + ECAL Lab and the celebration of 10 years of research at ECAL. The ECAL Research Day was filled with thought-provoking debate and ideas, including the participation of individuals such as Skylar Tibbits from the MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Roel Wouters from Studio Moniker, or Fabio Gramazio from Gramazio Kohler Architects. More information on the event’s official website.

Pressing the right buttons

A detail of Thibault Brevet's studio in Berlin. Detail of a photo © Katrin Greiling
A detail of Thibault Brevet’s studio in Berlin. Photo © Katrin Greiling

At long, long last, I was finally given the opportunity to write a profile of one of my all-time favorite designers: Thibault Brevet. He Skyped with me from his Berlin studio, and I was excited to know more about what drives him and what he’s up to next. The result is up on Interwoven, Kvadrat’s amazing online magazine edited by Anniina Koivu, and is brilliantly illustrated by photographs taken by Katrin Greiling. A link to the piece here, and an excerpt below:

No matter the size of his projects, be they self-initiated or commissioned, Brevet adapts, questions, takes apart and reconstructs. His thinking is representative of a new kind of designer, one less concerned with patents and copyright than with open processes and knowledge sharing. “Most projects I’ve done are born out of Google searches,” he points out. “Every project is this huge list of questions that you have to figure out: how do I mill this? How do I export that? The more material there is online the easier it is.” This reasoning works both ways: the same way he learns from others, from the “guy who already did it in a similar way” to the “little piece of code that inspires you”, Brevet documents and publishes the results online, both at in-progress stage and when finalised; others can build on his process and his thinking, or analyse it and draw inspiration and ideas from it. In the end, “the finished product is a crystallisation of a learning process,” he says. “The fact that you’re becoming an expert in something is the work. Mastering a skill is the project in itself.”

The Unmaking of Autoprogettazione

A giant Autoprogettazione table and a small me at the 2017 DHS conference. Photo © DHS Ambassadors
A giant Autoprogettazione table and a small me at the 2017 DHS conference. Photo © DHS Ambassadors

For Making and Unmaking the Environment, the 2017 Design History Society conference, Avinash Rajagopal and I wrote a paper titled “The Unmaking of Autoprogettazione”. I had the pleasure to present it at the University of Oslo last 8 September, and was delighted to discuss this and many other topics with the scholars attending. An abstract of the paper below:

In 1974, Milanese designer Enzo Mari shocked his contemporaries with his Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione, a set of rudimentary furniture pieces sold as cheap instruction manuals rather than physical objects. Anyone with a hammer, nails, and timber could build the pieces for themselves. The project commented on the overlooked social responsibilities of the designer and critiqued the passive role imposed on consumers by the 20th-century design industry. In the last decade, amidst social and economical complexity that echoes the context of its original making, Autoprogettazione has resurfaced as a touchstone project that adds to the contemporary discourse. From Artek’s 2010 re-edition of Sedia 1 to Cucula, a Berlin-based non-profit, producing Autoprogettazione for and with refugees in 2015, the many ways in which the project has been quoted, echoed, repurposed or copied have shifted, altered and reinforced its original meaning. This paper traces the making and unmaking of meanings in Autoprogettazione, analyzing the context that lead to the project’s inception and exploring its comeback in the last decade, whether as a platform for art and design exhibitions, a vehicle for do-goodism in times of humanitarian crisis, or as a propaganda tool for companies and their marketing agencies. Scrutinizing these instances, and exposing the shifts and appropriations the project has been subjected to, reveal how the original aim to critique the design industry has been appropriated and made part of the design industry itself, in varied and at times perfidious ways.

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2017

A detail of David Bielander's office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly
A detail of David Bielander’s office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly

I had the pleasure to once again work with the Federal Office of Culture, in the person of Patrizia Crivelli, designer Jonathan Hares and photographer Gina Folly in the publication celebrating the 2017 edition of the Swiss Grand Award for Design, a career prize bestowed upon distinguished Swiss designers of all fields. This year, the winners were David Bielander, Thomas Ott and Jean Widmer, whom I was humbled and honored to meet and interview for the publication.

The inception of atelier LUMA

A view of the Algae Lab team in the Camargue wetlands. Photo © atelier LUMA
A view of the Algae Lab team in the Camargue wetlands. Photo © atelier LUMA

The last days of May were marked by the first open house and public presentation of atelier LUMA, a new, experimental project taking place since mid-2016 in Arles with the artistic direction of Jan Boelen. atelier LUMA is a think tank, a production workshop, a learning network and an archive for knowledge and tools of the LUMA Foundation. Based in Arles, in the Camargue region, atelier LUMA wants to co-develop new ways of producing and caring for a city and a bioregion, using design as a tool for transition.

Since 2016 I have been privileged to follow and document this project, as part of the atelier LUMA team. One of the most visible faces of the project, for those who cannot make the trip down to Arles and see the wonderful, large-scale transformation the initiative promotes in the territory, is the website, which I was happy to work on in the last months. I invite you to visit it, learn more and engage with atelier LUMA – and stay tuned for the many fantastic things that will be coming out of Arles.

Why aren’t all economies circular?

View of the Disegno x British Council debate at Palazzo Clerici
View of the Disegno x British Council debate at Palazzo Clerici

I was thrilled to participate in one of the debates organized during Salone del Mobile 2017 by Disegno magazine and the British Council on the future of European design, which took place at Atelier Clerici. The event was titled “Why aren’t all economies circular?”, and was chaired by Joseph Grima with Sarah Mann, Carl-Johan Skogh and myself.  The talks were characterized by multi-layered, thoughtful and intense discussions – generally countering the superficiality on display for most of the week, and a welcome addition to the programming of Fuorisalone. The three discussions on the future of European design are all available as podcasts on Disegno Daily, and I invite you to listen to all of them!

 

Dominic Wilcox, contemporary inventor

A view of Dominic Wilcox's East London studio. Photo © James Mollison
A view of Dominic Wilcox’s East London studio. Photo © James Mollison

Last November, I had the pleasure to visit and interview Dominic Wilcox in his London studio for the Italian magazine ICON design, and talk to him about his past and recent work, concluding with some thoughts on his incredible initiative Little Inventors. The result was published in the April issue of the magazine, just in time for Salone, and is also available online (in Italian only). An excerpt below of my English original.

Dominic Wilcox doesn’t stop. As I speak to him, the designer-inventor fidgets, his eyes wander, his mind rushes. It is a grey London morning in mid-November, and his studio and workshop is teeming with his many inventions: drawings and sketches adorn the walls, showing his creations in their inception, while prototypes and one-offs are displayed in walls or tucked under desks. His suitcase is at the door; he just returned from a trip in Vienna, Amsterdam, Warsaw, and Wisconsin, sharing his expertise in innovation, invention, and the ability to surprise and delight. And yet, his first, ingenious creations have now lead to an ambitious, game-changing initiative, with the potential to create long lasting change at a global level.