Urbanism, feminism and … microbial life? Mariana Pestana explodes the limits of design at the Istanbul Biennial | Creators | ICON Design

Mariana Eyelash has one of those professional profiles impossible to summarize in the income statement box. This Portuguese woman living in London is an architect, but her job consists of writing, researching and developing projects that address design from a social, technological and even fictional perspective. After participating in the curation of The Future Starts Here (Victoria & Albert, 2018) and Eco Visionaries (Matadero, 2019), this year he is leading the fifth edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial, a hybrid project that began its journey in October 2020 and whose closure, scheduled for last April, has been diluted in projects that can still be seen in the city of the Bosphorus.

In this project, the grandiloquent interventions common in other events in the sector are conspicuous by their absence. In Istanbul, Pestana intertwines design and architecture with contemporary dance, feminism, gastronomy, ecology and even microbial life that tells as much about the history of the Turkish metropolis as its highly visited tourist monuments.

The title of the biennial is Empathy Revisited, empathy revisited. It is a very present concept now. What does it mean to you? When I started researching, I was fascinated to discover that one of the first people to write about empathy was Violet Paget, the novelist and political writer who published under the pseudonym Vernon Lee. He described empathy as a relationship between people and objects, or between people and the natural world. I found it interesting to recover the term in this time of climate crisis and artificial intelligence.

Architect Mariana Pestana, now curator of the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Architect Mariana Pestana, now curator of the Istanbul Design Biennial.Daniel Oduntan

And how do you apply empathy to design? That was the question I asked myself, and I came to the conclusion that it consists of designing for more than one, for more than one body, for more than one perspective. Designers can no longer consider well-being as something isolated, but as part of an ecosystem. We must design for the multitude of entities and spaces affected by any intervention. I realized that many architects and designers thought this way, and I invited them to this biennial.

How important is the city of Istanbul in the project, which is not a capital of design to use? Istanbul is not Milan, but this biennial has been held for ten years and has become a place where many ideas are debated. Istanbul is Istanbul. I am fascinated by everyday objects and actions, and there are certain daily practices that you cannot ignore. For example, the houses that people build for stray cats or birds are like little castles. Today in the academic world there is much talk about interspecies design, on how to design for different species, and these constructions are exactly that. There are also practices that have to do with agriculture, with bostansCommunity gardens that date back many centuries and have very interesting management models. I have learned about the city, and have also gained an interesting perspective from the artists who work there. For example, Ayşenaz Toker and Merve Tuna have created object*oriented*magic, a film in which they analyze the relationship between objects and superstition in Turkey.

'The Revolution Woodstove' by Bits to Arms and Beirutmakers, a public stove installed during the biennial.
‘The Revolution Woodstove’ by Bits to Arms and Beirutmakers, a public stove installed during the biennial. Daniel Oduntan

One of the most striking sections of the biennial is called Civic Rituals, civic rites. What does it consist on? Rituals are sequences of gestures that must be performed in a certain order with a symbolic meaning. They are practices, protocols, forms of social etiquette that we develop with those around us and that speak of the beliefs of society, of our values. The projects that we have integrated in this section pose objects that enable encounter rituals between people, but also between different species, as happens in Microbial Fruits of Istanbul [una obra de Orkan Telhan y el estudio español elii que explora la vida microbiana de los bostans], or on the artificial island for migratory birds that you have created Obsidian study. These rituals, beyond the gestures, are an invitation to the public to consider the symbolic dimension of each act.

The Critical Cooking Show section, a critical cooking program, of the eflux platform, addresses the gastronomy. What is the relationship between food and geopolitics? Food is fascinating to me, because everyone has an opinion on it. This project allows us to talk about design on a different scale, from the chemical composition of cumin to the way in which patriarchy is expressed through kitchen utensils. Food is a Trojan horse for dealing with very complex subjects.