Revisiting A School of Schools

Design Biennial Talks, a podcast series by IKSV / Istanbul Design Biennial.

One of the highlights of the lockdown period was talking to Deniz Ova, director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Jan Boelen and Nadine Botha, alongside whom I curated the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, in 2018. We revisited some of the themes of the biennial and their resonance in the present moment, in a conversation that was recorded for the biennial’s podcast series “Design Biennial Revisited”. You can listen to the episode here, and follow the series for more conversations. Thank you to the IKSV/IDB team!

Design as Learning: Re-edit

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The opening of Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab at the Porto Design Biennale. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.

During this year’s inaugural Porto Design Biennale, curator Mariana Pestana invited Jan Boelen and myself to lead a workshop as part of Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. The three-day workshop ended in an exhibition at the Casa Museu Quinta de Santiago, in the vicinity of Porto. The workshop took as a starting point the Design As Learning: A School of Schools Reader publication, produced on the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

Through a series of group readings, discussions and site visits, we looked at design education from a wide variety of angles, from its power structures to the spaces where it takes place, and considered how various alternative pedagogical models have been implemented throughout time. These readings, visits and reflections were then re-thought, re-hashed and re-edited to form new reflections and alternative pathways for design, education and design education. 

As the workshop came to an end, participants selected specific issues found in Design as Learning to comment on, enriched by the insights of our time together. This materialized in a “re-edit”, which was expertly translated into a poster format by Zurich-based design office Offshore Studio. At the end of the workshop, our space of encounter was transformed into a space of display, and each poster hung above our roundtable, in dialogue with one another. This was a snapshot of what had happened, a summary of the scope of our discussions, a series of conversation pieces. But because we did not want the discussion to end with the workshop, or to be accessible only to those who had taken part, we invited Dutch designer Teis de Greve to contribute to our installation with an iteration of his A Ditto, Online Device project, specifically customized to respond to the essays of Design as Learning. 

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Introducing the project by Teis de Greve –A Ditto, Online Device. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.

FB_IMG_1572562534068View of the Design as Learning: Re-edit room at Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.

FB_IMG_1572562529004View of the Design as Learning: Re-edit room at Fiction Practice: Young Curator’s Lab. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.

Design education and its futures at Hurra Hurra Festival

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An aspect of Hurra Hurra Festival. Photo by Benno Brucksch and Martin Patze.

It was a pleasure to spend a day in Halle to take part in the Hurra Hurra Festival, a student-organized, multilayered festival on design education that took place at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design. I discussed the work developed for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, and took part in a discussion about the environments of the school versus the real world. It was impressive to see the multiple tracks of engagement in the festival, from lectures to workshops, and performances to a night sauna– Thanks for having me!

Digital Bauhaus 2019: Learning Design

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A walking lecture during Digital Bauhaus 2019. Photo Thomas Müller.

I was happy to be one of the speakers of this year’s Digital Bauhaus Summit in Weimar, Germany.  The conference gathers creatives, researchers and anyone interested in new cultural formations, exploring “the political dimensions of design: from collaboration to social design, from Luxury Communism to modernism, from ‘High & Low’ to this year’s topic ‘Learning Design’.”

Speaking about the learning experiences of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I shared some insights on the process and outcomes of the biennial, and was thrilled to continue the conversation on education, design, and design education. Thank you for having me!

School Fundamental at the Bauhaus Dessau

Festival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / OstkreuzFestival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / Ostkreuz

At the end of March, the Bauhaus Dessau welcomed an extraordinary festival. Titled School Fundamental, it transformed the historic building into a temporary school, a “testing location” of design learning experiments. The festival brought together several educational experiments taking place all over the globe, and featured an impressive roster of speakers and participants. I was happy to take part and to present, alongside Jan Boelen and Deniz Ova, the work we developed for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

A School of Schools was born out of an examination of contemporary design education, and informed by an attitude of critical reflection towards the past and present of design education with an appreciation of the singular contexts and spaces in which it happens. The curatorial team sought to transcend the traditional spaces of design education and explored design practices that have learning at their core.

Ultimately, the biennial’s many dimensions acted as a starting point, illuminating how the much-needed shift in the field of design and design education is already underway. This shift appears in many shapes and colours, and opens several doors towards possible futures. It calls for greater responsibility and greater agency. It demands visibility and creates spaces for the opinions of others. It pushes design out of its silo and into the spaces where it connects with other disciplines. It insists on learning as a permanent, embodied attitude, one that transcends the formal, spatial and temporal boundaries of the school, and overflows into the world and life itself.

Mediated Meaning

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An aspect of Judith Seng’s Acting Things VII: School of Fluid Measures at the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo by Ekin Özbiçer.

During the closing weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, Judith Seng’s installation at the Scales School, in the Pera Museum, hosted a special roundtable. International guests – a sociologist, a curator, a philosopher and game theorist, and a theatre director – discussed the project from different angles, offering surprising views on the process and the interactions that Seng’s installation determined. The discussion, which I moderated, centered on the fluidity of standards, and on the possibility to create a notation system for fluid values. The result was published in Disegno #21, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

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

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

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!

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.