From the pages of NCR-01 comes a text from New City Reader – Istanbul Project Coordinator, Benan Kapucu.
Bedazzled by her incredible energy and her multi-layered, multi-cultured allure, the eyes of the world are fixed on Istanbul. In all design meetings, events, exhibitions and discussion platforms happening in Istanbul, we can follow the trail of the same discourse: to activate the city’s creative energies and to be a part of the global design network through a ‘brand new language’. How connected are those myths – in which we are always willing to believe – and actual phenomena? Distancing ourselves from the elitist circles and just levelling with the realities of daily life, is design really an issue on the agenda of Istanbul?
The discourse of the media consists of a rhetorical relationship with daily life. It is possible to get an idea about how deeply a country or a city has internalized the culture of architecture and design, by observing the general state of its publications. Publishing in the area of design and architecture has its problems in Turkey. The political and ecnomical cross-relations of the media bosses who engage in various different commercial practices other than the press, have an extremely decisive influence on publishing policies. Spellbound by popular culture, mainstream media in general, and decoration magazines especially, handle design in terms of its consumption value, merely as a life-style issue and offer very little room for an interrogative, critical and oppositional perspective and expression.
We are talking about a system removed from deep thinking processes, shaped by the manipulative character of mass culture, and that glorifies the act of “looking” instead of “reading”. Even though there are a great number of people who write and express an opinion about design and architecture, very few adopt a critical stance. The most apparent reason for this is the fact that most of the publications are commercial in nature, with their livelihood dependent on sales and advertising. Consequently, the publishers and editors find themselves tongue-tied when it comes to criticizing the very system that feeds them. Now, the boundaries between information and news are a lot less defined. The media blame their inability to give accurate information and their lack of critical perspective on issues related to advertising and number of prints, thus transferring the responsibility on to the reader or the viewer with the excuse that they are responding to the expectations of the targeted masses. (i)
As the traditional media in Turkey transform into a self-devouring monster like the mythological figure of Erysichton, architecture periodicals, academical publications and newspapers – even though they contribute to the accumulation of intellectual knowledge – are devoid of the power to manipulate the architecture and design climate. Arkitera, Yapı Endüstri Merkezi, Tasarım Yayıncılık and Depo, the publisher of the magazine XXI and the newspaper YeniMimar make up the leading quartet of architecture and design publishing. Arredamento Mimarlık, the prestigious magazine title of Boyut Yayınları and certain digital platforms such as Dexigner and Mimdap are struggling to survive on their own means. Having promoted itself as a magazine with a critical outlook, the British born Icon magazine was forced to meet its unfortunate end after a brief two-year run and was finally buried in the dark recesses of the history of magazine publishing.
Borrowing from Barthes’ definition of the consumer culture, we are living in a world where we create “contemporary mythologies” and the publications that constitute the institutional climate of this process are working towards “the creation of a design mythology rather than a design culture” (ii). And those publications that orient themselves towards arousing “excitement” and “emotion” through the use of visual imagery are a part of this mythology. As Bernard Tschumi points out; “There is no way to perform architecture in a book. Words and drawings can only produce paper space, not the experience of real space.” So the main function of magazines and publications is to advertise architecture and convince the reader.
New technologies enable individuals to build platforms for exchange and to engage in the practice of personal publishing. Activists such as the TAG Platform and a great number of bloggers are raising their voices a little more each day. Sector-specific and sponsored magazines, digital publications and web blogs are also capable of creating an agenda, move away from the elitist niche they are trapped in and address a larger audience but their approach is nowhere near critical enough. As a result, web blogs fail to contribute towards raising the quality of architecture or design production.
Ultimately there is a serious gap between the real and the presented phenomena. Whether it is within popular culture or high-brow culture, architecture and design – even though they are matters of debate – do not infiltrate the public arena and daily life. So how can we build a common and correct perception in the public arena? A paradoxical proposition would be to suggest that the responsibility to create a cultural understanding of architecture and design in Turkey lies again with the media. On the condition that this media isolates itself completely from cross-dialogues with the advertisers, remains neutral and participatory (iii).
The biennial is heading towards “the spatial practice of democracy” not only through its exhibitions but also with its publications. New City Reader, the street paper of the Istanbul Design Biennial offers an interesting experience in terms of transporting the design phenomenon beyond social media exchanges into the public spaces and therefore introducing opportunities for debating ideas born from different fields. It is a public newspaper like the ‘dazebao’s of the Chinese revolution, where the facts and phenomena are communicated loudly and clearly through the voice of “street writings”. It is a newspaper designed not to be “1ooked at” but “read” and shared. The free flow of knowledge contributed by different participants into a democratic space through this wall-newspaper could well be a driving force to activate the rising of critical culture, could it not?
Jürgen Habermas’s concept of public space defined an ideal environment which was too good to be true. This is a new way of translating this ideal into the language of modern times and reach a consensus, even with the presence of the old players of the public space of mainstream media still lurking in the shadows. Because we really need mind-opening intellectual platforms. We must write more wisely for a larger audience. We don’t need more publications enticing the readers with glossy images, but a more critical outlook and attitude.
– Benan Kapucu
[i] Yaylalı, Hale; Kapucu, B ve L.N.E. Arıburun, “Development and Problems of the Turkish Design Media in the Context of the Crisis”, ITU IV. National Design Congress: Design or Crisis, Istanbul, 8-10 Oct 2009 / ed. H.Alpay Er [and oth.] Istanbul: ITU Department of Industrial Product Design, 2009.
[ii] Bağlı, Hümanur. “The Press as the Creator and Transformer of the Discourse of Design in Turkey” III. National Design Congress: Discussing Design in Turkey, Istanbul, 19-22 June 2006 / ed. H.Alpay Er [and oth.] Istanbul: ITU Department of Industrial Product Design, 2006.
[iii] Kapucu, B. ve L.N.E. Arıburun, “The Role of Publishing in the Transference of the Design Culture”, III. National Design Congress: Discussing Design in Turkey, Istanbul, 19-22 June 2006 / ed. H.Alpay Er [and oth.] Istanbul: ITU Department of Industrial Product Design, 2006.