“Today, design has become a form of inquiry, power, and agency,” say Jan Boelen and Deniz Ova, curator and director of the 2018 Istanbul Design Biennial. “It has become vaster than the world itself, permeating all layers of everyday life.” Their curatorial statement for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, which opens later this year themed with the title “A School of Schools,” seeks to explore how design education, and education in general, can evolve and adapt in a new age of artificial intelligence.
The team is determined that the Biennial should not read as a two-year scheduled event, but should “reinvent itself and become a productive, process-orientated platform for education and design to research, experiment, and learn in.” The team is undoubtedly well equipped for the challenge.
Boelen is director of Z33 House of Contemporary Art in Belguim which fashions projects and exhibitions which encourage visitors to look at everyday objects in a novel manner. Meanwhile, Ova’s experience with international exhibitions includes over a decade working with the International Projects department at IKSV, coordinator for the Pavilion of Turkey at the Venice Biennale, and managing the participation of Turkey in the London Design Biennial.
In this exclusive interview with ArchDaily, the curators discuss their intentions to explore design education, share their views on the future of the Biennial, and describe how they intend to use the Biennial as a platform not just to critique existing education models, but to actively explore new methodologies in a format which stretches into a “flexible year-long program within which to respond to global acceleration, generating alternative methodologies, outputs, and forms of design and education."
ArchDaily: What was it that inspired you to look at education? Did it pertain to your own research, was it a long-standing interest? What guided your design of the Biennial?
Jan Boelen: Education in itself is a long-term interest for me. I am interested in what architecture and design are doing in our everyday lives, how we are affected by it, and how it is having an impact on us. Going further, I am interested in how architecture and design are evolving and expanding. Architecture is becoming more open. It is not just about finding a pragmatic solution anymore but also encompasses speculation, critical architecture and design, and also relational design and architecture. These are becoming new directions in architecture itself.
I do not believe that education is following these new developments, so as we approach the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, perhaps it is an appropriate time to reflect on where the profession is going, and how we can design the architecture of education.
Deniz Ova: Education was interesting to examine in the confines of the Biennial because as a cultural institution the Biennial always has an educational and investigational role, no matter how slight. We were excited by the idea rethinking the Biennial as a platform for learning experiences of a different kind, and to further explore what the Biennial could be.
Jan Boelen: It also explores the format of the Biennial, asking if the Biennial is still needed or if it still plays an important role in positioning design as a cultural practice. We want the event to serve as a connector of local and global in the Turkish design world, asking how the Biennial can become more than just a two-year event. I actually believe it already is more than that, but it needs to be more explicit.
AD: Reading the curator statement, you say “chalk and talk and reciting multiplication tables has no chance against the animated distractions in our pockets. Meanwhile, the machines themselves have started learning.” There is a sense of urgency, that the education system today is training humans to perform tasks they either no longer need to, or will no longer be applicable in industries increasingly moving to automation. Is that an overstated interpretation?
JB: We still do believe in traditional approaches to education, and we are not just engaging in protest. That would be too easy. We are instead looking for new models and new strategies. We should reflect on this age of artificial intelligence and ask if it gives us the opportunity to develop new ways of exchanging knowledge. We ask if learning an “attitude” is more important, if we could become more human by allowing our emotion and intuition to form more of a part of our education system. So this is the opportunity of the future that technology can give us - we need to rethink how future systems can respond to that.
We ask if learning an “attitude” is more important, if we could become more human by allowing our emotion and intuition to form more of a part of our education system.
DO: We are also looking into a future which is not really defined. So with the learnings and findings of the Biennial, we ask what will the future of these institutions be, how will we work with the topic, and what can we create? That is what we are trying to understand in this conversation that is the Biennial.
AD: You mention the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College as initiatives which helped design evolve, and pushed the boundaries of education and learning. Reflecting on today, do architects and designers still exhibit that drive to go beyond the design of space, and engage with the design of systems, and does the Biennial remain as a valuable tool to support this?
JB: I hope that traditional places of learning don't become the only places of learning, that architects and designers open their practices to develop educational studios, and that education doesn't always have to be as confined to a traditional academic university. Learning by doing and by action can be more beneficial, rather than by learning by listening and reproducing.
Throughout the last seven or eight months, we discovered that using the Biennial as a place of both exhibition and production can give architects and designers the agency to engage with systems. It is a place between studio and school or university, a playground where you can develop new theories. It is a testing ground, rather than a full operating organization.
DO: The Biennial serves as that avenue for experimentation, for new ideas to thrive. Designers can operate with a confidence that “if it fails, it fails”. But if we were working in a professional world, there is perhaps more pressure to deliver results, and less room to investigate and interrogate.
JB: Now you have your title: Learning to Fail!
AD: You have pursued a very complex and ambitious goal: to “create new knowledge, search for alternatives, and push the boundaries of the design discipline.” I note you have received more than 700 applications from 41 countries, in an open call to “architects, scientists, engineers, chefs, craftspeople, activists, and everyone else.” How are you responding to that challenge of directing and curating such a rich and diverse influx of ideas?
JB: When we got these applications, we took one step back. We thought “why are we doing this? What is the need?” and then we produced the expanded notion of design and architecture encompassing other methodologies. So we looked not only at traditional pragmatic solutions of objects and so on, but also speculation, critical, and relational approaches. We asked how they related to design education.
We brought together different players from different disciplines, so not just architects but also scientists, artists, people who are simply interested in the topic. We then try to create a catalyst where these broad disciplines engage in a “school of schools” where everyone has their own way of dealing with topics, all of which are valid. This new direction of design has the power to renew the profession itself, from speculation to the solution of a pragmatic product that helps us in everyday life. From the critique that we formulate to the political consequences that everyday objects have, if we redefine these notions of design and architecture, then we hope it will influence the traditional approach.
That is the main research question, you could say. It is not a conviction, it is open to discussion.
We try to create a catalyst where broad disciplines engage in a “school of schools” where everyone has their own way of dealing with topics, all of which are valid. This new direction of design has the power to renew the profession itself, from speculation to the solution of a pragmatic product that helps us in everyday life.
AD: The Biennial has historically acted as a geographical anchor, allowing people from across the world to convene in an exchange of ideas. But the challenge arises of translating that energy, enthusiasm, and results in a digital media so they can reach a larger audience. Do you have intentions of replicating or sharing this year’s Biennial online?
JB: This Biennial is process-orientated. Even right at this moment, graphic designers are working with other designers in workshop groups to develop parts of the identity that the Biennial needs. The Biennial itself also functions as a school, so within that, you hope that it will also have a legacy, that groups will continue engaging.
The website itself will be a platform not just for participants, but also for others who will publish and write about design, and design education.
DO: One of the flaws in the Biennial model is that only the people who attend can experience it, so it is very important to extend the experience and discussion over a longer period and to have it last longer than the Biennial itself. This is why we are trying share as much of the process as possible, through articles, through media, through websites. And after the Biennial closes, we will try to keep it is active as possible, so that the conversations can continue.
AD: The Biennial itself could be regarded as a school, as a place of education: do you still believe in the power of the Biennial to effectively contribute to experimentation and new knowledge, or does this avenue also need a “redesign” for the digital age?
DO: This Biennial is quite young compared to other events, so we try to stretch the idea of the Biennial each time. We are always open to changing the format, to allow it to transform into something completely different. We believe the Biennial should be anchored more in how we work day by day, rather than being a classical exhibition event once every two years. With a Biennial, everything operates on a two-year schedule, so we have been trying to change this, to use this event as an opportunity to ask what a Biennial can be, and how it could look in the future.
And of course, every Biennial can mean something different, being anchored in different locations, to the identity of its city and country. The important factors for us are what does it mean for Istanbul, and to the network that we could create nationally and internationally.
We believe the Biennial should be anchored more in how we work day by day, rather than being a classical exhibition event once every two years [...] we have been trying to change this, to use this event as an opportunity to ask what a Biennial can be, and how it could look in the future.
JB: I sometimes ask myself if Biennials are still needed. But it was because I could formulate a need that I accepted the invitation to become involved in this event because, otherwise, you should not do it! There is an inflation of Design Biennials, festivals, parties and so on, but as we discussed before, one reason to completely engage with this event is that it starts from a cultural perspective. Many other events cover a mixture of culture and communication, where the party can become more important than the content that is being produced.
AD: Before we finish, do you have any final reflections?
JB: Let’s talk again in exactly one year. It is very important to continually make evaluations and re-evaluations, and we can see if the discussion we have started having an impact. I do not know yet what the indicators are which can measure this impact, but the most important aspect for us is to build something which is sustainable, and which has an after-effect.
About the Curators
Jan Boelen is artistic director of Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, Belgium, and artistic director of atelier LUMA, an experimental laboratory for design in Arles, France. He also holds the position of the head of the Master department Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Since the opening, Z33 House for Contemporary Art has been fashioning projects and exhibitions that encourage the visitor to look at everyday objects in a novel manner. It is a unique laboratory for experiment and innovation and a meeting place with cutting-edge exhibitions of contemporary art and design. With Z33 Research, design and art research studios established in 2013, Boelen is transforming Z33 from exhibition-based to a research-based institution. At the initiative of Z33 and the Province of Limburg, Manifesta 9 took place in Belgium in 2012. As part of his role at Z33, Boelen curated the 24th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2014.
Boelen also serves on various boards and committees including the advisory board of the V&A Museum of Design Dundee in the UK and Creative Industries Fund in the Netherlands. Boelen holds a degree in product design from the Media and Design Academy (now the LUCA School of Arts) in Genk, Belgium.
Deniz Ova is Director of Istanbul Design Biennial at Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), since 2013. Ova started to work at İKSV in 2007 as the project leader for the International Projects department, where she developed and organized the festivals and events of the foundation in different European cities, carrying on as the director of the department from 2010 to 2013. Besides the festivals, she has been coordinating the Pavilion of Turkey at the International Art Exhibition, la Biennial di Venezia, the artist residency studio “Turquie” at Cité Internationale des Arts, and recently managed the participation of Turkey in the London Design Biennial.
Since 2014, she is an advisor to the Pavilion of Turkey at the International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennial di Venezia, and has currently been appointed as a jury member for the artist residency studio “Turquie”. In 2009, Deniz Ova was assigned to write with General Director of İKSV, Görgün Taner, and academician Deniz Ünsal a critical report on the arts and culture scene in Amsterdam following the nomination of Taner as Art Advisor for the Amsterdam City Council. Before her posts at İKSV, Ova worked as assistant director in several theatre productions at the Stuttgart State and City Theatre and managed festival events in Stuttgart. Deniz Ova graduated from the University of Stuttgart in Political Science and Linguistics. She is fellow at the Salzburg Global Seminar and Stiftung Mercator “Turkey Europe Future Forum”.
Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and sponsored by VitrA, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial runs from 22 September – 4 November 2018.
Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and sponsored by VitrA, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial (22 September - 4 November 2018) announces A School of Schools: Orientation , a multifaceted opening programme exploring the possible futures of design education.
The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts have announced that Jan Boelen has been appointed as Curator of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennale. This follows the 3rd- Are We Human?-which opened in September 2016 and was curated by Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina with a powerful, wide-reaching exploration of design and architecture in relation "the design of the species."