The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial / Are We Human?


The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial (22 October – 20 November 2016), organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and curated by Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, is titled “ARE WE HUMAN? : The Design of the Species: 2 seconds, 2 days, 2 years, 200 years, 200,000 years”. 

The biennial will present more than 70 projects from 5 continents by designers, architects, artists, theorists, choreographers, filmmakers, historians, archaeologists, scientists, labs, centres, institutes and NGOs in  5 main venuesGalata Greek Primary SchoolStudio-X Istanbul and Depo in Karaköy, Alt Art Space in Bomonti, and Istanbul Archaeological Museums in Sultanahmet. In addition to the projects of this core multidisciplinary group, the work of a dense array of international writers, video makers and designer researchers will be presented in the same venues and online to stimulate a new kind of conversation about design.

The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial will explore the intimate relationship between “design” and “human” over a time period that spans from the last 2 seconds to the last 200,000 years. Organised by İKSV, the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial is held free of charge (except the Istanbul Archaeological Museums will require a museum ticket). For more information:

More than 70 projects presented in 4 “clouds”

Aimed at rethinking design for an age in which design has gone viral, the biennial is organised in 4 overlapping “clouds” of projects: Designing the BodyDesigning the Planet, Designing Life, and Designing Time.

Designing the Body explores all the different ways in which the human body itself is a highly unstable artefact that is continually reconstructed, from the unique way our hands work to the latest research on the brain. Every dimension of the human is continuously adjusted, augmented or replaced.

Designing the Planet asks us to rethink the human design of vast territories and ecologies. The human radiates design in all directions and encrusts the planet in layer upon layer of artifacts as a kind of geology.

Designing Life looks at the new forms of mechanical, electronic and biological life that are being crafted. A fusion of machines, organisms, computation, and genetics is moving from the laboratory into everyday life, the land, the air, and the oceans. 

Designing Time presents a unique archaeology ranging from the deep time of the very first human tools and ornaments to the ways in which social media allows humans to redesign themselves and their artefacts in as little as 2 seconds.

6 Curatorial Interventions

Over the course of the last year, Colomina and Wigley held graduate seminars on “What is Design?” at Princeton University and Columbia University, exploring a wide range of topics related to the theme of the biennial. A joint team of Princeton and Columbia students worked over the summer with the curatorial team to prepare a set of six curatorial interventions to be inserted into the main exhibition of the Biennial. These interventions – Design Has Gone Viral, The Unstable Body, Are We Normal?, Enclosed by Mirrors, Homo-Cellular, and Design in 2 Seconds – present historical and contemporary research to supplement the work of the invited contributors to the Biennial and deepen the reflection on the central question: ARE WE HUMAN?

In addition to the curatorial interventions, the biennial will include two special projects: the famous “Transparent Man” from the Deutsches Hygiene Museum will return to Istanbul for the first time since 1938 to be exhibited in the Designing the Body section, and a set of casts of Neolithic human footprints in what is now Istanbul is being exhibited in the Designing Time section along with some of the original footprints in the original soil.

SUPERHUMANITY project in collaboration with e-flux 
The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial inaugurated the SUPERHUMANITY on-line project with over fifty writers, scientists, artists, architects, designers, philosophers, historians, archaeologists addressing “Self-Design.” Nikolaus Hirsch and Anton Vidokle of e-flux, in collaboration with Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, commissioned 2000 word contributions from different fields that respond to the biennial’s theme ARE WE HUMAN? by exploring and challenging our understanding of the relationship between concepts of “self” and “design”. These contributions appear online as a series of dispatches circulated by e-flux as well as an installation in the biennial exhibition, and subsequently as a book. The first text went online on Thursday, 22 September and a new text will be posted every few days over the next months.






Photo: Tractography / Diffusion MRI image, 64 directional full brain tracking with data from Daphna Shohamy. The Learning Lab, Columbia University, New York.


Turkey Design Chronology

The curators of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial have also initiated a major long term research project into the last two centuries of Turkish design. Entitled Turkey Design Chronology, it is an attempt to bring together fields such as packaging, graphic design, communication and advertisement, housing, furniture, landscape, industrial buildings, and other fields which have not been addressed from the perspective of design yet, like lighting, toys, music, ceramics, health or non-governmental organisations, within a time frame starting from the Ottoman Tanzimat reform era (beginning around 1839) until today. A very large interdisciplinary team of Turkish experts in different fields called Curious Assembly is being coordinated by Pelin Derviş. One component of the project entitled Archive of the Ephemeral seeks to become a visual source on objects and spaces, through a collection of family photos and found photographs. Curious Assembly seeks to spark debate and reach others who may partake in these dialogues by highlighting an interconnected selection. To this end, part of Studio-X Istanbul will be turned into a research laboratory during the biennial, and topics highlighted in the chronology will be the focus of a series of events and panels. The project is also assembling a research library on design in Turkey that will act as a permanent open resource at Studio-X for designers and historians.

The Open Call for video submissions

Co-curators of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley made an open international call for industrial and graphic designers, architects, artists, filmmakers, groups, associations, and non-governmental organisations from around the world to submit 2 minute videos that address the theme “Are We Human?” In a wonderful response, more than 200 videos from 68 cities in 36 countries were submitted. All the 146 videos that fulfilled the requirements of the Open Call will be presented in a dedicated section within the exhibition itself and will be online on the biennial website. An international and interdisciplinary jury evaluated all of them and selected 5 videos to be highlighted in the biennial exhibition and catalogue.

No-Selfie Zone

The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial carries the most complex design-work, the human itself, into the streets and online media, with images of people taking selfies in the mirror. The flash in these “no-selfies” interrupts the human image, masking the identity of the selfie-taker and enabling the viewer to imagine themselves or others in the image. The over exposed human becomes a mystery, a question mark. In their introduction to the exhibition catalogue, the curators suggest: “This biennial is a kind of mirror. The real work is not just what is on show but in the unexpected and inventive reactions to the surprising reflections one always sees in a mirror.” Accordingly, the images invite people to reflect on the human and post their own “no-selfie” photographs on social media with the hashtag, #AreWeHuman.