Category Archives: Istanbul

How to milk a camel and craft an embroidered computer. An interview with Ebru Kurbak

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, closed two weeks ago and i’m still struggling to type down the final notes from my visit to the event. The past few weeks have been exhausting and exciting but the end of the tunnel is near! I’m really happy to sit down today and write about the work of Ebru Kurbak, a (super talented) Turkish artist and designer based in Vienna. She was showing three very strong projects in Istanbul. Each of them reflects her interest in the often invisible political nature of spaces and technologies, and in the way the design of the ordinary can help shape values, practices and ideologies.


Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet was the work that moved me the most. This version of the touristic guide of Syria was revised and annotated not by savvy globetrotters but by the people who had lived there and had just fled the country. The result is a poignant overlay of landmarks that have been reduced to rubble, routes that can no longer be taken safely but also everyday realities that survive in some form or another despite the hardship. The work, under its unassuming aesthetics, brings nuances to a country that has, in the eyes of most foreigners, transformed from being “one of the most peaceful exotic travel destinations” to “one of the most dangerous places on the planet”.

The artist and designer has also worked with migrants to create Infrequently Asked Questions, a series of workshops in which she asked just one question to people who had recently arrived in Austria, could barely speak German and had lost some self-confidence in front of all the new knowledge and skills they had to learn in order to get by in the new country: What are you good at? The work reveals the best way to milk a camel but also the fact that the values of things are social constructs, not absolute facts.


So Kanno and Ebru Kurbak, Yarn Recorder (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Photograph by Elodie Grethen ©Stitching Worlds

Finally, the biennial also presented Stitching Worlds, an investigation into how different technology would be if textile craftspeople were the catalyst to its industry. The collaborative project produced devices as diverse as a magnificent embroidered computer, an instrument that utilizes spools of yarns and threads to record and play sound, a board game that reflects on cryptocurrencies by requiring players to knit the money they need or a sweater that gives its wearer the ability to occupy electronic space by sending invisible radio transmission waves.


Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet


Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

I talked with the artist shortly after my return from Turkey:

Hi Ebru! Your work Lonely Planet attempts to understand the present reality in Syria by editing a travel guide through interviews with people who recently fled from the country. How did you get the idea for this work? Did the initial idea emerge from discussions with people who have moved from Syria to Austria?

The initial idea actually emerged before I met the people. Back in 2016, the University of Applied Arts Vienna had dedicated one of their vacated buildings as temporary a shelter for people who just arrived from Syria. I was working there at the time when over a thousand people started residing in the building neighboring my workspace. When the University decided to put together an exhibition on this subject, the curator Işın Önol asked me whether I would contribute with a new participatory work. The idea for Lonely Planet was one of the few ideas I came up with early in the process and discussed with Işın before I set foot at the shelter.

I think the questions this work asks have a lot to do with my own experiences growing up. I grew up in Turkey receiving constant news about the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s and the Gulf war in the 90s. These were the “officially declared wars,” so to say. But, although not always recognized as such, there have always been conflicts in Turkey as well, and fragments of what one can easily call war.

“War” or “no war” is not always something that changes from one day to another, as the tourist guides depict. There is some daily life that continues, even if the amount might fluctuate over time. But, apart from the official declarations, when exactly do individuals acknowledge that they are in war? The research I did for the work was an attempt to understand how people in Syria experienced this merged reality of ordinary life and war. People that fled from the country must have identified critical moments, which made them take that difficult decision.

The tourist gaze implied with the travel guide also relates to the shame and sorrow I felt about not having been to Syria before and about how surprisingly little I had known about the country. The process taught me a lot of things that I wish I had known and seen before.

But then again, as said, editing a travel guide was only one of the few vague ideas I had in mind. As soon as I started talking to people at the shelter, they made it clear for me that this was going to be it. The people had just arrived to Austria and were eager to talk about where they used to live, how they used to live, what happened and what changed, as much as I was eager to listen. The guidebook gave us an objective framework to start from and our conversations flew smoothly and naturally from there. This made working on this particular idea more interesting for all of us.


Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

How was the whole re-writing process of the guide like? I suspect it must have been a very emotional experience. Is what we can see/read at the biennial in Istanbul and on your website the result of long debates and discussions? Or did the participants all agree on what had changed and how in Syria?

It was emotional. Especially editing the first pages in May 2016. And, it was not only because we talked about painful things. It was a time when everything was very recent and all of us were in some sort of shock or even disbelief. I remember Mohammed, one of the people who helped me the most, pointing at the map in the guide and showing me where he had last parked his car some days ago. And I remember unthinkingly asking him what was going to happen with the car, and waking up with the fact that he did not seem to care. It was hard to grasp that people had truly left things behind—both physically and mentally. Seemingly casual things like that proved the immediacy and reality of everything.

The edits in the pages are results of long talks. But, there was no agreement sought among participants. I spoke with everyone in private, at separate times and places, as people were still quite worried about their opinions to be openly known by others in the shelter. All came from different places and had fought for different political views. Their experiences were different from each other and they relied on different sources for news. So, the work captures rather a collection of multiple realities than one objective truth.

The project relies more on text than on shock images, its immediate visual appeal is thus not obvious. Yet the ability of your Lonely Planet work to convey the shock of what Syria was before and what it is now is very powerful. More perhaps than the newspaper photos we got so used to. Was it something you realised right from the start? Did you know that this subtle and visually unspectacular strategy would be so impactful? Or have you, at any point, been tempted to add photos and colourful graphics to the work?

Thanks so much for this comment. I found it a very difficult task to work with such an emotional topic. A tragedy that involves millions of people in first person… I got terrified of unintentionally creating an inappropriate spectacle. No, I did not ever consider using imagery or graphics. But, I had not planned the calm aesthetics to add an extra impact either. It was my intuitions that brought the work to this point, which, luckily, I still feel comfortable with.


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. How to cook Ashak, by Zarifa


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. How to build an Aqal, by Amina

The project Infrequently Asked Questions (iFAQ) reflects your own experience as an immigrant. When you arrived in Austria from Turkey, you had the feeling that the skills you had gathered while growing up in Turkey had no value in your new country. What were these skills exactly? And conversely, are there skills you learnt in Austria that are useless to you when you go to Turkey?

There are many practical examples that come to my mind, such as coping with snow in winter, or, riding a bike in the city. But, frankly, the most difficult skills I had to learn were about human relations. “Wiener Schmäh,” the local and slightly insulting sense of humor referred to as the “Viennese Charm” was exceptionally difficult to get for me, for instance. Before I moved to Austria, I had not realized how much I was influenced by the Anatolian culture. And there is indeed a huge difference between the two cultures in terms of how people generally relate to and communicate with each other. It took me a while until I could recognize how hard-coded my own assumptions and expectations were, particularly about personal relationships. This was an eye-opening experience. But, it was and still is a challenge to tune those assumptions down. I guess this is a pretty common feeling among people who migrate to cultures that are unlike their own. It takes many unnecessary disappointments until one is able to read some of the intentions behind unfamiliar gestures. The skills I learnt here are not as useless when I go back to Turkey though. They might not be useful literally, but they help me identify our unquestioned habits in Turkey and look at them critically.


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Some of these skills and knowledge shared in iFAQ are indeed not very useful in Europe. How to milk a camel for example. Others are. How to recognise a good watermelon for example. I also like the turmeric face mask. What did the experience of working on this project with you brought to the participants? Did they emerge with more self-esteem? A better idea of who they are? A greater understanding of how different cultures can be from one another?

I wanted to highlight that having to learn new skills at a new home does not necessarily mean one is unskilled or undereducated in general. It just means that they had to spend their lives acquiring a totally different set of skills. So, actually, I tried to excavate and display the least useful skills to make my point clear. Later on, when I exhibited the work, I did notice many visitors taking a picture of the watermelon one in particular, saying how useful that information was!

Yet, for me, the work is neither about learning from newcomers, nor about repurposing skills and finding new ways for them to provide for their families.

I intended the work to address the local audience and decision makers more than the participants. I wanted to intervene in the widespread perceptions about the situation. But, the process did also bring us all to a greater understanding of how different cultures can be. The participants were very surprised and entertained by what knowledge and skills I found exciting. Also, in scope of the Vienna Design Week, I organized workshops taught by the migrant women. Local people from Vienna could register for the workshops and learn new skills.

The immigrant women told me they really enjoyed those workshops. It was a totally different social experience for them in which they interacted with local people on a different basis than they are able to do in their ordinary lives.


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Did you work only with women? And if yes, why?

Yes, but not exclusively. The Vienna Design Week had commissioned this project and linked me to the Caritas Lernsprung adult education program as partner. I ended up working mostly with women because it was mostly immigrant women who went through a long and exhaustive voluntary education process at the Caritas Lernsprung. The courses were in fact open for men as well. But when I asked why there were no men around, I was told that men were not as open as women to visiting classes at older ages. At the time of my visits, there were two classes of women, one class from Somalia and one class from Afghanistan, who first were going to learn how to read and write in their own languages. Then, they were going to continue the courses by learning German. After that there comes information about basic necessities of daily life such as way-finding in the subway or being able to use a cash machine. The biggest motivation for the women I met was them wanting to support their children at school. There are a few skills in the exhibition that were collected from men, whom I interviewed during the project but at other places than the classes.


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

If I understood correctly, the opening question for the workshops was “what are you good at?” I find it incredibly difficult to answer that one myself. Was it obvious for the participants to pinpoint what they were good at?

No, not at all! It took us quite some time before the process really started rolling. The first time I visited the class I was welcomed with amazing local food the women had prepared and brought with them. They also had brought a few beautifully handcrafted objects and laid them on their desks. I was extremely surprised and humbled by this gesture. Apparently, their teacher had told them that they would get a visitor and explained roughly what I was up to. The next time I visited, I cooked a pot of stuffed vine leaves based on a recipe from my hometown and brought it to them. Instead of bringing handcrafted objects, I shared examples about the most mundane knowledge and skills I could think of. For example, I gave them a recipe for home made hair removal wax, which was common knowledge among Turkish women during my childhood. Such mundane examples helped us move our focus off food and handcrafts onto more daily knowledge and skills. I asked them what daily skills I would have to learn if I moved to their village. They started coming up with the most amazing ideas on what to teach me.


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

I liked the way you present the participants’ contributions. They are delicately framed like valuable artefacts. What is the motivation behind the particular way in which you present these skills?

Most of the visualizations and objects in those frames had been created in the process of collecting the skills. The participants and I did not really have a common language to speak. Their teachers helped us translate things but we mostly had to speak in broken German. I made models and drawings to help us communicate more precisely about the skills. I kept all those materials that were created during the interviews and later on integrated them in the instructional frames I designed. The instructions include plenty of visual information besides German texts because I wanted the participants to be able to follow and understand them as much as the local visitors of the exhibition were. When the participants saw the frames, they were able to identify which frame depicted the skill they personally taught me and check the accuracy of what I had gathered from our conversations.

I’d also love an iFAQ book in which you’d gather some of the skills and knowledge collected during these workshops. Have you thought about it?

Yes. With this work I received the Erste Bank MoreValue Design Prize, which came with a project budget for the designers to continue the work in the way they want. An iFAQs book was one of the ideas I had when I was pondering on how I would like to continue. In the end, I decided to rather expand the scale of the project first with more skills and exhibit it a year later. The exhibition took place at the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art, which has a quite local visitor profile that was amazing to reach. We also created a small catalogue on the whole project, together with Vienna Design Week, Erste Bank and Caritas. The booklet includes some of the collected skills, but also articles on the topic and process, and interviews with the participants. The idea about an iFAQs skill-book is somehow stuck in my mind. I am still collecting skills as I come across them and might pick up on that book idea in the future.


Ebru Kurbak and Irene Posch, The Embroidered Computer (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak and Irene Posch, The Embroidered Computer (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak, Stitching Worlds, 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Ebru Kurbak, The Knitcoin Edition (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects, events, fields of research you’d like to share with us?

Well, there are a few commissioned exhibition projects I am running in parallel. But, I have been mostly busy with wrapping up another long-term and large-scale artistic research project titled Stitching Worlds. The project questions the politics of invention in terms of how it influenced societal evaluation of skills. We looked at textile crafting techniques as alternative ways to create electronic technologies and spent about four years on making technological research in the marginalized space of often-undervalued women’s work. The project recently ended with an exhibition and a book, but also opened up a few new exciting research topics that I’m currently looking into. I’m very curious to see where those ideas will lead me to!

Thanks Ebru!

Ebru Kurbak’s projects Lonely Planet, Infrequently Asked Questions and Stitching Worlds were part of A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions closed on 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Staying Alive. A “wunderkammer” of disaster solutions, Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies).

Staying Alive. A “wunderkammer” of disaster solutions

The third project i discovered at A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial (after Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation) is not a project but a cabinet of curiosities curated by SulSolSal, a collaboration between Brazilian architect Guido Giglio and South-African designer Hannes Bernard.


Demystification Committee, Offshore Spring/Summer 2018, 2018


Exhibition view of Staying Alive, part of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Global warming, widespread precarity and the threat of another economic crisis, the rise of far right discourses across Europe and the US, the mass extinction of natural species, (cyber)terrorism, political unrest, etc. The world seems to be facing a constant stream of menaces and crisis that only seem to grow with each passing day. Governments don’t seem too concerned about it, they are too busy signing climate agreements they won’t respect and courting votes with short-time measures that can only fool the naive and the self-centered. As for industries, they pursue their strategies of turbo-greed as if there was no tomorrow. And maybe indeed there won’t be any tomorrow.

SulSolSal’s Staying Alive is part a “wunderkammer” and part a survival guide. The artists, designers, architects and other resourceful citizens whose thoughts and works the SulSolSal duo has collected look bravely at some of the crisis we are facing today and attempt to help us prepare for a future of adversity and scarcity.

I wish SulSolSal‘s website was up and running and that they hadn’t titled their contribution Staying Alive because i’ve spent the whole weekend pretending i’m Robin Gibb. Other than that, i can’t fault the work of these guys. The research they did for the Istanbul Design Biennial was smart and inspiring.

Here’s my favourite projects in their selection of interesting and often tongue-in-cheek attempts to respond to the ongoing climate of impending doom:


Theo Deutinger, Europe in Africa, 2014


Theo Deutinger, Europe in Africa, 2014

Europe in Africa (EIA) is a proposal for a new city – state on an artificial island to be created right between the Exclusive Economic Zone of Tunisia and Italy. The aim of EIA is to provide a secure place for people that have to flee their country and want to reach Europe.

The purpose-built island would offer a football stadium, a business park, a mosque and a church, a business park, a police station, schools and spaces to live and grow crops.

After living and working 5 years in EIA its inhabitants would be granted with a truly European passport and could leave and legally reside in any European country; if wanted. The designer believes that Brexit exiles would be welcome on the island as well.


SkyLift V0.3 (current build) Photo ©Adam Harvey. Used in Adam Harvey and Anastasia Kubrak, Data Pools, 2018

The pools and mansions of Silicon Valley are financed by the mechanisms of economic surveillance and ownership of your personal data. Yet the geographic locations of these luxurious residences are often removed from open source databases. Data Pools uses SkyLift, an experimental wifi geolocation spoofing device that relocates your smartphone to these hidden locations of interest. The work explores the relationship between data collection, consent and the technologies behind wifi geolocation positioning.

With this project, Adam Harvey and Anastasia Kubrak allows you to cheat these technologies of control and pretend you’re having a drink by the private pools of big tech billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page.


Human Rights Foundation, Flash Drives for Freedom, 2005

The Human Rights Foundation is using USB sticks to counter Kim Jong-un’s propaganda machine and influence people living in North Korea.

A few years ago, a group of defectors began smuggling USB drives with educative and informative contents from the outside world. The campaign invites people all over the world to support their “subversive” effort and donate their unused drives. The USBs will then be filled with e-books, films, an offline Korean Wikipedia and other content proven to inspire North Koreans to disbelieve Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda and take a stand. The drives are then smuggled into the country.


Meeus van Dis, Super Green (Solar powered tanning bed), 2016. Photo credits: Sabrina Gaudio


Meeus van Dis, Super Green (The diesel fuel powered electric car), 2016. Photo credits: Sabrina Gaudio

Steven de Peven, Meeus van Dis and Bart Eysink Smeets used absurdist humour to question the “technofix”, this tendency we have to look at technology and design as providers of the ultimate solution to climate change and other man-made problems.

Their Super Green series features the GreenBrown solarium powered by solar energy to give you an eco-tan, an electric car powered by a diesel generator and an electric fan that uses wind energy.


Joao Roxo, The Hand that Feeds you, 2017. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

The Hands That Feed You: Global Dependency and Design for the Third Space maps the North-South divide and the dynamics of its inter-dependency systems, in particular its flows of waste and surplus. The work also exposes a “Third Space” made of self-reliance and resourcefulness and informal economies. An example of this inventiveness is the furniture that people in the South craft using the excess of unwanted clothing sent as ‘charity’ from the North. People stuff big bags with the clothes and use them as poufs for example.

Janna Ullrich, Quantified


Janna Ullrich, Quantified (image)

’Quantified’ is a cooperative board game, set in a world in which everyone’s behavior is constantly surveilled and analyzed. A player’s behavior results in a social credit score leaving traces of data behind for governments and corporations to analyse and determining their position on the social ladder. Players start from different positions on the social ladder, as refugee, unemployed or employed, with unequal access to human rights. The goal of the game is to make all rights accessible to all players and to fight the implementation of totalitarian policies.

By gamifying the complex challenges of migration, participants experience how legal innocent activities can make them lose their rights and how they can collectively fight for laws that protect their rights.


Tattfoo Studio, New Earth Personal Survival Kit, 2017. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Tattfoo Studio, New Earth Personal Survival Kit, 2017

New Earth Personal Survival Kit, aka NEPSK, is a series of small survival kits that form part of an educational program teaching an ethos of self-reliance and living closer to the Earth. Although the work intends to prepare us for any type of challenging situation we might encounter in the future, it features artifacts inspired by folk craft and everyday objects. The artist believes that equipping yourself for the future also involves a great deal of looking back at past practices and strategies.


Demystification Committee, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz


Demystification Committee, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

The Demystification Committee is an art and research project that takes the shape of an international corporate structure set up to model and explore offshore finance. Secretive movement of money is a crucial component of the offshore world. In order to benefit from this, the Demystification Committee has launched a collection of beachwear: Offshore Spring/Summer 2018. In this leisure collection, the stakeholders and strategies of the dark infrastructure is portrayed as being just as unseen as brightly coloured, pop-fashion diagrams.


Demystification Committee, Offshore Economist, 2018

The Offshore Economist, a digital publication focusing on the cracks inherent to the offshoring practices of corporate finance.


Mary Ponomareva, Luxury Survival Fair, 2017

Our anxieties and uncertainties about future disasters shouldn’t stifle the economy. In fact, ‘The end of the world’ is a business opportunity like any other, with high-end private security systems, state-of-the-art predator drones, luxurious survival condos and jewel-encrusted gas masks, etc.

By speculating on the objects and services that will make post-apocalyptic life more glamourous, Mary Ponomareva’s Luxury Survival Fair questions the role that aesthetics plays in the construction of ideology.

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies).

Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies)

New scientific techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9 have raised debates about whether or not we will soon be able to get babies à la carte and whether this will be ethically acceptable.

If making designer babies ever becomes acceptable, genome modification would not be used solely for therapeutic reasons (to eliminate genes causing disorders such as cystic fibrosis for example) but for enhancement. Parents who can afford the expense would then be able to ask labs to give them a full list of the traits they can select for their child and ensure that he or she will be faster, smarter, stronger and sexier than their peers.


Pınar Yoldas, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017


Pınar Yoldas, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Artist and researcher Pinar Yoldas is participating to A School of Schools, the 4th edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial, with nine delicate 3D printed statuettes – one for each month of human pregnancy – that reflect the characteristics of gods and goddesses in Greek mythology.

Her installation Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies) invites us to consider the societal impact of a gene editing tool that might in the future allow some of us to tweak human DNA and ‘play god’ with future generations of children.

Yoldas’ designer babies have been genetically altered to be superior beings. They are endowed with truly exceptional levels of intelligence, beauty, clairvoyance, longevity, social status or even moral reasoning. Each of them has grown in a very peculiar environment that only enhances their specific and extraordinary gift but that makes it difficult to distinguish whether their identity has been shaped mainly by their background, by their education or by the fact that their genes have been ‘improved.’ What is sure is that these god-like individuals come with their own insecurities and weaknesses. They are scientific marvels, military experiment, display of privilege and power or cultural artifacts as much as they are flawed human beings.

Let me introduce you to a couple of these kids:


Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Boreas is the first designer baby to have been gifted with a superpower. His is longevity. He was “made in China”, the first country to edit the genes of human embryos using the CRISPR-cas9 tool back in 2015. It has also often been said that China, or at least its government, is more tolerant towards programs that could be regarded as “eugenics” such as selective abortion of fetuses with severe genetic disorders.

Kronos was born at Duke University Hospital. The identity of his parents is classified, all we know is that his birthgiver was a third-year graduate student in that university. She had agreed to deliver him to pay her student loans. 6 months after his birth, Kronos was relocated to an education facility and bred to have perceptual time wrapping. He’s an ongoing experiment and his progresses, his ability to slow down or accelerate time, are carefully monitored by the team of scientists who take care of him.

My favourite in the group is Artemis because there’s something almost inevitable about her existence. Her parents are Nike. She’s an athlete (what else?) engineered to serve the American corporation’s propaganda. Whether she finds her role and existence ethical or not is of no significance to her designers.

Aphrodite is exceptionally beautiful of course. She is the child of Hollywood stars. She is a star herself, an influencer on social media. She is not sure if she’s adored because of her personality, because her two mothers are so famous or simply because of her own fame.

What distinguishes Hermes is his lineage: Mark Zuckerberg, Beyonce Queen Elizabeth, Elon Musk and King of Saudi Arabia. As befits an heir to world’s most powerful people, Hermes was born in the “New Cayman Island.” He’s neither particularly smart nor beautiful but he possesses the genetic imprint from 7 bloodlines from across the world’s richest new “aristocracy”. And that’s enough to make him exceptional.

Calculus is a secret military experiment. He is extremely disciplined and dedicates all his time and precocious intelligence to study and sport. He doesn’t seem interested in anything else.


Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017

Pınar Yoldaş’ small 3D-printed models are accompanied by a publication that further explores the story of each baby. I found Genetically Modified Generation to be very moving. The beauty and delicacy of the tiny sculptures draws you into a nuanced and insightful meditation about the ethical dilemmas society would face if the gene editing technique was adopted without a rigorous public discussion of its impact on individuals and society.

Finally, and in the own words of the artist:

The bio-critical, techno-feminist aesthetic disrupts the mainstream media’s infantilizing superhero narrative that conditions us to think that we need saving instead of being able to change and develop our own world.


Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz


Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz


Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes.

Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes

“Halletmek” is a popular Turkish catchphrase that refers to the art of solving, adjusting, fixing a problem. Designer Nur Horsanali noticed that the practice of halletmek is everywhere in the streets of Istanbul. People improvise repairs, upgrades and improvements with craft, any cheap material available and a lot of ingenuity. It might not looks very sophisticated but it’s fast, smart and efficient.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanalı, a designer interested in ethnographic research, vernacular design and craft, wanted to pay homage to practices that are so ubiquitous in Istanbul that people don’t even notice how shrewd they are.

What fascinated the designer is the way that these halletmek practices offer a shortcut to the methods and strategies adopted by designers: the researches, surveys, analysis, mind maps, sketches and models that make design dependable but somewhat slow and complex.

By offering a non-institutional alternative to traditional design approaches Halletmek asks us: “Could practical makeshift solutions in everyday life, be a guide for designers?”

Having received a ‘traditional’ design education, Horsanalı started her project by doing a field research in the different neighborhoods of Istanbul, documenting “halletmek” -both methods and objects- with photographs, drawings and interviews.

The outcome of her investigation is a wonderful little book that records 70 of the halletmek examples encountered in the public space. The publication maps the objects and processes and reveals how ideas for repair or upgrade spread from one neighbourhood to another, circumvent municipal rules and prohibitions or simply keep street cats and dogs happy.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

I discovered Nur Horsanali’s work while visiting A School of Schools, the 4th edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial. Here’s an interview with the designer:

Hi Nur! How did people react when you approach them to take photos of their Halletmek creations and started taking photos and asking questions? Did they suggest that your interest might be a little strange?

Most of them are suspicious of me at first. They do find it strange because for them it’s such a normal practice. After I explain myself and why I find their objects interesting, they are mostly happy and talkative. Sometimes I even feel that they are proud that I noticed their production.

I have some little tricks too. For example, if I am going to talk to a maker of a stool, I introduce myself as a furniture designer, to make it more relatable. Since this was my graduation project, saying that I am a student was also incredibly helpful. Turkish tradesmen have a weak spot for students.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek’s booklet (the digital version is available online.) Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek’s booklet (the digital version is available online.) Image courtesy of the artist

In your intro of the Halletmek book you explain that these practices are so widespread in Istanbul that no one notices them anymore. So what made you pay attention to them? How difficult was it to train your eyes to spotting them?

It started with one street food vendor. This vendor caught my attention because it inheld so much simple problem solving in one small area.

After that, it was not at all difficult to spot these in the street. My perception somehow opened for these practices immediately. In fact, now it is impossible for me to close this feature. Wherever place I visit, I see and find these objects around me. Now it happens pretty much automatically. I guess my eyes first spots the common materials such as tape or cardboard before the objects. Then my brain makes a fast analysis of what I see and decides whether if I should investigate closely or not.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

A chapter of the book is dedicated to cat culture in Istanbul. I had never been to Istanbul before the design biennial and was surprised to see all those cats that roam freely in the city and that are fed by the whole population. Could you tell us about some of the halletmek practices that address specifically the feline inhabitants of the city?

Houses and food containers made for stray animals on the streets of Istanbul are very diverse. Some are produced in very simple ways, mostly reusing discarded materials such as pet bottles or cardboard boxes. To this people, even the simplest material can serve as a temporal animal house when modified slightly. Some of the houses are built using more durable materials to be more permanent. In these cases people focus on customization and decoration as well. Sometimes the old furniture thrown into the street are upcycled into cat houses.

While various municipalities and firms also offer a variety of animal house solutions, people are still intervening in these ready-made houses because these “designed” products cannot fully meet the needs or tastes of real-life users. People tend to customise or upgrade these, for example, by adding blankets or newspapers inside to keep the animals warm or covering the houses with waterproof materials.

These practices are mostly for cats and dogs in the city, but I occasionally see things made for birds as well.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

What are the most inspiring or surprising ideas and comments that emerged from your interviews with the authors of halletmek?

The most surprising and inspiring thing for me is a stool of a shoeshiner that has being fixed for 40 years now. This stool was given to him in the past by someone else. When a problem occurred with the stool, he kept on fixing it instead of buying a new one. This shows me a very anti-consumerist approach that I value.

A comment of one maker also had an influence on me. While we were producing a palette stool together for the biennial, he said that “Everybody could produce anything with unlimited materials and tools, the important thing is being able to do it with limited means.” This comment showed me that he truly understands why I do this project and why am I interested in his stool.

Could you give us a couple of examples of the halletmek practices that are meant to ‘overcome the municipally rules and prohibitions’? And do you know how much tolerance authorities might have towards them?

The most common example for this is the illegal street vendors at Istanbul. One of the most interesting scene I ever encounter in Istanbul is when police comes and all the illegal vendors start to run while carrying their stands. That is when I fully realize why do they produce their stands as in the shape and qualities they are now. To be honest, I don’t know how much tolerance the authorities actually have on this.

Fish sandwich stand built out of styrofoam is my favorite example. Sellers are looking for the cheapest and the most practical stand building methods because the municipality constantly take away their stands and they have to build their stands from scratch each time. The interesting part is that, when the most effective method to make that stand is found, information spreads and all different sellers in the same location begin to built their stands with the same method.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

I suspect that halletmek might disappear before we know it. After all, buying a new chair, a vase or a little cat house is getting cheaper and cheaper. Do you see resistance to this idea of buying something new and cheap versus being more resourceful and crafty and doing your own bricolage operation?

Yes, it might disappear. In our domestic daily lives it has been disappearing for a long time now. In the streets, I do see a resistance though. In the street, there is an approach to use the waste materials and means at hand, instead of buying new. It’s being told that this approach connects to the nomadic past of Turkish people.

Even if people on the street are buying a new and cheap product, they are hacking them with their crafty operations to keep that cheap product longer than it’s usual life cycle. People do not find what’s ‘designed’ enough, so they update it in order to make it more useful or more aesthetically pleasing for themselves. So, I think ‘halletmek’ will keep it’s presence in some way.

What can designers learn from the “Halletmek” practice?

I am still constantly thinking on this. I aimed to open a discussion on what design is and how we can learn from our environment, rather than giving a certain answer on how ‘halletmek’ should be implemented into design. I think understanding these practical productions which don’t rely on big budgets or high technologies, and the approach of making something out of nothing is valuable in order to think of a more anti-consumerist and sustainable way of designing.


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek, exhibition view as part of the “Unmaking School” show at Akbank Sanat. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of IKSV


Nur Horsanali, Halletmek, exhibition view as part of the “Unmaking School” show at Akbank Sanat. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of IKSV

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects, events, fields of research you’d like to share with us?

I’m currently doing my master’s in Helsinki. There I continue to think on ways of making and designing. I got interested in the behaviour of “improvisation” -which also relates to ‘halletmek’ in a way- and I would like to research it’s relationship to design further. I still like to continue on the ‘Halletmek’ research as well. Continuing collecting examples from different countries and creating an online collective archive of these objects would be great.

Thanks Nur!

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

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