Musibet: a text by Emre Arolat from the pages of NCR04 “Horoscope”.
Oh beautiful Istanbul! You incorrigible, you rich-hearted city…
Not that it has ever been seen to sit still and behave, but it is once again teeming with life these days. All bouncy and bubbly, doing cartwheels, hopping and skipping. With its spine contracting and stretching; its face darkening one minute and lightening up the next, yet nevertheless becoming increasingly foggy and obscure. This time, the progress is much faster than ever.
Daydreams of great transformation, a kind of hyperactivity, or simply delirium. Any given moment, another bright idea, any given day, another new project… It may be crazy, it may be absurd, who cares! Quickly drawn up drafts, hastily organized tenders based on these drafts. Clumsy interventions, desperately implemented city-scale decisions. Instead of specificity, the spirit of searching, understanding, participation, and social agreement, here we find a self-styled state of autos-kratos. Ridiculing all attempts to pursue subtlety and grace. Refusing to go deeper, unable to go deeper, unwilling to go deeper, preferring to sweep the surface. Just like the mild, slippery, hedonistic surfing movement of virtual reality. Swaying aimlessly about and just as it seems to be holding on to something, suddenly changing colour. Surrendering itself to the fresh and provocative winds of the world of entertainment.
No doubt that the reason-defying speed of such euphoric moves is also releasing an unprecedented kind of energy. But the people remain hushed. Apart from a few shaky voices, there is almost no reaction. They seem to be waiting, on edge, to see what happens next. Casting sidelong glances. Happy to be left untouched by the snake, they don’t care whether its menace lives for a thousand years to come. But it is a strange and dangerous energy nevertheless. Indebted to noone, under no obligation, a reckless kind of energy. Bridges, canals, barracks…
It may be that this city has never really built up so much tension before…
In such a setting and under such circumstances, the position that will be assumed by the Istanbul Design Biennial is critical both for the city and for the players active in various different strata of the design world. This is exactly why the biennial refuses to adopt the lofty role of single-handedly producing a solution to all the problems confronted along the way. Instead it aims to ask questions and present a show that will activate all the potential in this climate towards the posing of new questions. “Musibet” as one of the two main exhibitions, constructs its backbone in terms of urban and architectural design under two headings: one which can be defined as the aestheticization of context and specificity, and the other of a kind of neologist contextlessness. Orientations produced by the process of “Great Transformation” serve to connect these two headings.
Recently occupying Istanbul’s agenda like a plague, urban transformation projects such as “the urban transformation law” and the process of gentrification expand their field of activity whilst backed up by an argument such as the public good – an argument that not only sounds nice and is easily adopted by the masses, but is also not at all problematized by the professionals in the architecture milieu and its legitimacy accepted without question. In the meantime noone has the slightest doubt anymore with regard to this imposing attitude creating considerable hegemony in terms of individuals’ freedom and rights, as well as producing a sterile tension. As one of the active players in this process, TOKI with its collective housing projects spread all over Turkey, presents a production model that completely disregards context. In the same vein, the justice houses, schools and governmental buildings constructed by the State come on extremely strong with an identity-related imposition through a false regionalism that can also be seen as the “aestheticization of the contextual” or even worse, through a movement of historicalism. Urban and architectural design are instrumentalized via ideological fantasies in these current times when the governmental powers are feeling and acting at their strongest.
At the other end of extremes, the conception of a kind of autonomy brought on by the the new world’s universal acquiescence, new technologies, speed and the myriad of opportunities, polishes and presents itself with daydreams of being innovative and futuristic, thus declaring its legitimacy and rapidly loosening its connection with its locality.
This tendency that glorifies the extraordinary almost without any consideration of its qualities, polishes all the surfaces, softens all the sharp edges and produces an expanding “sameness”, even though the original aim was to present differences. Seen from this perspective, this orientation which we can call anti-contextualism, and fashion design with its channel of development defined by temporality and seasonal renewal, seem to have gotten closer than ever.
The design biennial invites the players who have a say over the development of this city and perhaps more importantly, the people who have the potential to influence, manipulate and even restrain these players, to problematize this transformation and look deeply into the future that is rapidly advancing towards us.