5th Istanbul Design Biennial opens with ‘Empathy Revisited: Designs for more than one’

Studio Maria João Macedo in collaboration with Dário Cannatà.

Curated by Mariana Pestana with Sumitra Upham and Billie Muraben, Empathy Revisited: Designs for more than one, the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial opened its doors to the public—digitally and physically—on October 15. It runs until April 30, 2021.

Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) under the sponsorship of VitrA and with the support of Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the biennial will take place in exhibition venues, outdoor spaces in Istanbul and digital platforms. The projects displayed in the exhibition venues will be open to visit until November 15, 2020 while the interventions in the city, research projects and video series will continue to evolve until April 30, 2021 and beyond.

The biennial takes place during a global pandemic, a unique moment in time when the whole world is engaged in imagining what will come next. It’s a time of rupture and questioning. In face of the many and constantly shifting challenges and regulations brought about by the pandemic, the biennial devised a programme that rather than resisting or ignoring the current scenario, adapts to it. It reappraises the traditional biennial model to propose a generative and locally produced programme, developed in dialogue with, and catered for, the citizens of Istanbul. Concerned with legacy, many of the projects will continue to live post-2020. Amidst an acute ecological crisis and a general state of social isolation, the biennial invites us to think critically about how we relate to one another and to others, be them human or other bodies—biologic, bacterial, or geologic.

The biennial brings together ideas and projects that seek to define a new role for design based on empathy. As a mediator of emotions and feelings, design is presented here as a practice that takes care as its main purpose. Designers adopt sensitive, diplomatic, sometimes therapeutic functions, with the aim of connecting us with one another but also with the world around us, with other species, with microorganisms, soil, water and even the universe.

Aspiring to carve out a space of responsibility and nourish a culture of attachment towards the more-than-human, this biennial explores designs for multiple bodies, dimensions and perspectives. The projects on display encourage us to rethink practices of care and civility at this critical moment in time, and to collectively build new systems and structures for reconnecting. The biennial offers critical tools and alternative pathways in face of urgent climate and economic crises, a general state of social deprivation and an exhausted global industrial model. Designs for more than one are those that take into consideration not just their immediate user or client, but the many constituents and complex entanglements inherent to any design process.

At home, visitors can experience the digital Critical Cooking Show programme; a series of films that explore how food exchange, preparation and consumption relates to urgent ecological, economic and geopolitical conditions. Every Sunday, from October 18, a new film will be released on the website of the biennial and at e-flux architecture. In Istanbul, visitors can book a place at the Library of Land and Sea at ARK Kültür between October 15 and November 15, where they can learn about the 10 research projects that the biennial is supporting in the Mediterranean basin, all driven by care and activism, investigating our relationship with soil and water in order to reveal hidden networks of food production. They can also visit Pera Museum to find two major installations by The Rodina and Kyriaki Goni and a screening of Empathy Sessions, a series of films that will expand their understanding of empathy. Throughout the city, in gardens, on piers and squares, they will find a number of New Civic Rituals: long-term interventions that generate new kinds of encounters with new public infrastructures across scales and bodies, comprising people but also birds, stars, plants, and microbes.

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Mariana Pestana, with Sumitra Upham (Curator of Programmes) and Billie Muraben (Assistant Curator & Deputy Editor). The graphic identity is by Studio Maria João Macedo, the exhibition design is by Future Anecdotes and the sound design is by Maxwell Sterling. The Young Curators Group, a team of curators based in Istanbul responsible for establishing links with the specific context of the city, are Nur Horsanalı, Ulya Soley and Eylül Şenses.

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