Answering a philosophical question on design

Answering a philosophical question on design

Hatice Utkan Özden
Answering a philosophical question on design In “The Magic of Believing,” Claude M. Bristol says “No doubt, we become what we design.” It is no doubt human beings can become what they like and how they like just by designing their future and present. On one hand, this is part of feeling good for so many people, but when looking at the Third Design Biennial, it is also possible to see the designed life of a human being and that we are able to change our lives by just designing them. The biennial presents more than 70 projects by over 250 participants, including designers, architects, artists, theorists, choreographers, filmmakers, historians and archaeologists from more than 50 countries. It is hosted in five main venues, the Galata Greek Primary School, Studio-X Istanbul and Depo in Karaköy, Alt Art Space in Bomontiada, and Istanbul Archaeological Museums in Sultanahmet. 

Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), the biennial may be evaluated as a new approach of seeing life. How we change the environment that we live in and how we change it at the very moment we are experiencing it with others are the questions that one needs to ask while observing the biennial works. The title of the biennial, which asks a question directly to the viewers, “Are we human?” may be seen as a suggestion to just let us be more aware of how we design our environment, ourselves and our lives. 

The works in the biennial are all related to each other, as is the urge to design the life that we are currently experiencing. It is possible to see the intimate relationship between the concepts of “design” and “human.” The theme of the biennial focuses on how design always presents itself as serving the human but its real ambition is to redesign the human. 

The curators of the biennial, Beatriz Colomina, professor of architecture and founding director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University, and Mark Wigley, an architectural theorist, critic, historian and professor and dean emeritus of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, observes the history of design and also a history of evolving conceptions of the human. 

According to the curators, to talk about design is to talk about the state of our species.  While the works at the biennial shows us the radically reshaped lives of humans by the designs they produce, the works show us how the world of design keeps expanding. 

Looking at the exhibition clouds in five different spaces, it is possible to understand humans are able to design everything such as physical looks and online identities, to the surrounding galaxies of personal devices, new materials, interfaces, networks, systems, infrastructures, data, chemicals, organisms and genetic codes.

While the curators suggest that the average day involves the experience of thousands of layers of design that reach outer space, they aim to show the viewer we all literally live inside design, just as the spider lives inside the web constructed from inside its own body. As the written theme of the biennial says: “But unlike the spider, we have spawned countless overlapping and interacting webs. Even the planet itself has been completely encrusted by design as a geological layer. There is no longer an outside to the world of design. Design has become the world.”

A philosophical question

“Are we human?” is a philosophical question. From Derrida to Foucault, the question of being human is always in fashion. However, this time combining humanity and design together, Wigley says in one of his videos, “we live inside,” adding that no one can experience the world without design. 

The biennial serves as a kind of reunion of designs that transform the species. According to the written theme of the biennial, the event centers on the fact that the human is unique in its capacity to design but is also continuously redesigning itself in a never-ending loop that flings it into the world in unexpected ways. The human is a question mark and design is simply the way of engaging with that question.  

The curators have separated the exhibition into four different groups that they term “clouds.” It has multiple overlapping layers through which visitors are invited to rethink design. More than 70 projects are organized in four clouds: Designing the Body, Designing the Planet, Designing Life and Designing Time. These clouds of “projects” are not strict divisions but are like different gates to the same dense forest of interconnected thoughts. 

The biennial’s works are all mainly focused on design and its different projections. Here are five of the must-see works at this year’s biennial:

Anselm Franke’s “The Breaking Point or the Paradox of Origins” asks what cultural and epistemic origin stories can tell us about the human species. The work is being exhibited at Alt. 

Another work from designing the body cloud is Lu Yang’s “Delusional Mandala,” which she made herself as a digitized sexual humanoid in a single channel video.

“Spidernauts…. Dark Webs” of Toas Saraceno is an installation that comes with a spider web, made by two argiope anasuja spider in two weeks. 

“The Transparent Man,” from Dresden’s Deutsches Hygiene Museum, is one of the earliest human body models in the world.

“Homo Cellular,” as a curatorial intervention shows the viewer how cellular phones have changed our lives and how we design (even a moment) via our phones.