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.

At Akbank Sanat, Unmaking School interrogates the complex, ever-changing relationship between humans and machines to emphasize human creativity as a unique dynamo that drives innovation. Projects include an AI-personalised avatar that can be used for self-growth and an installation envisioning a future in which humans are liberated from labour.

At Yapı Kredi Culture Centre, Currents School investigates the multitude of connections and networks of exchange that often exist unseen or unnoticed, with projects working to make these systems visible through methods such as a live radio programme recorded on the streets of Istanbul exploring how slang is transmitted, and a Syrian travel guide presenting narratives of those who have fled.

At Arter, Earth School questions and subverts the prioritisation of capitalist growth over the planet’s natural resources to suggest an alternative—less fatalistic—future, with projects harnessing algae’s potential to replace non-biodegradable plastics, and investigating the impact of water shortages in underdeveloped countries.

At Pera Museum, Scales School interrogates established norms, standards and values, such as quantifying value in numeric and monetary terms, to highlight their absurdity and arbitrariness. One installation explores whether our standards of perfection are cultural or biological as designer babies become a conceivable reality, while another asks if centimetres and inches are obsolete as measuring units in the age of pixels and vectors.

At SALT Galata, Time School (co-curated by Ils Huygens) offers possibilities for manipulating time in a world increasingly dictated by standardized systems, in order to be more present, right here, right now. From a participatory project involving 20 hand-weavers in different time-zones and a clock that re-centres attention to our bodies, to a video installation that encourages participants to stop, rest and sleep, designers demonstrate alternative understandings of time.

At Studio-X Istanbul, Digestion School (co-curated by Margarida Mendes) redirects focus from the brain to the gut as a site of cognition, to rediscover indigenous cultural knowledge and emphasize the importance of communal and embodied approaches to living and learning. Projects include an exploration into traditional medicines from Indonesia, and a study on the social, cultural and anthropological significance of the marketplace.

Alongside the six-week-long exhibition, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial presents an ambitious public programme which will take learning outside the walls of the classroom into the streets, and spread it throughout the city. “By naming the design biennial School of Schools,” we assert in our curatorial statement, “we sought to go beyond the traditional ‘school-as-institution’ connotation. Everything and everywhere is a school, and every single interaction we have with design is pedagogical.” More information on the biennial, participants and programming can be found here.