From October 13 until December 12, 2012, the First Istanbul Design Biennial is exploring and mixing the different disciplines of architecture, design, and art with a bold dose of hacker culture. It consist of two main exhibitions, and whereas the Musibet exhibition at Istanbul Modern by Turkish curator Emre Arolat focuses on urban transformation in Turkey, the Adhocracy exhibition located at Galata Greek Primary School aims to document and comment on a different movement outside the art world.
Titled by its curator Joseph Grima, editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, as an “exhibition about people who make things,” it brings the do-it-yourself spirit of maker fairs into the exhibition context. When we walked through the halls of the former school, it felt like an experimental lab with 3D printers, Arduino devices all over, and workplaces providing a hands-on experience for visitors to get accustomed to new technologies. The altogether 62 projects on display, including many more projects within, can be results of Open Design projects, or collaborative group efforts, or they were made using open-source technologies. For example, the products of the OpenStructures project were initiated by the Flemish Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, where designers provide manuals and kits so that everyone can re-build their design objects.
In an interview with the curator of the Adhocracy exhibition, Joseph Grima and the associate curator, researcher Elian Stefa, explain about Open Design and, among other things, how this is connected to a relatively new phenomenon called drone journalism.
© Pietro Leoni
First, the title of your exhibition, Adhocracy, was first coined by American futurist Alvin Toffler in 1970. Please explain its role for design.
Elian Stefa: The term "adhocracy" is about the approach to business and business organization and how top-down management is hindering progress and innovation in the business world. It proposed a horizontal approach and small task teams that would solve problems as they came along. So it would be much more flexible. We just re-introduced it to the design world because the same ideas are valid right now. With the exhibition we are commenting on the situation: This is a networked development and also a new equality between the user, the designer, and the manufacturer. In a way, all three parts can contribute to the final results—which are not always necessarily the same. Adhocracy would be synonymous with Open Design. We gathered projects that introduce an open approach to design. It is about mixing architecture and art with the do-it-yourself culture. It is about hacking things to do what you want them to do, instead of what they were meant to do.
Interesting! How did this all start?
Joseph Grima: The idea for the exhibition came from the realization that we are in a moment of profound change in the way that objects are made. Not simply in the kind of the industrial process through which they are produced, but the whole relationship that we culturally have today with products. Traditionally, it goes back to the Second Industrial Revolution, in which a completely new model of social relationships with objects was proposed. This model allowed the cost of products to be brought down dramatically. It also allowed for a quite substantial perfection and precision in production. The Second Industrial Revolution was predicated on giving a large number of well-crafted, almost perfect objects to as many people as possible. The price for this was that all of these objects would be the same. The product of the Second Industrial Revolution was mass culture, in a way: mass media, mass consumption and the idea of everybody, to some extent, having access to a greater range of commodities, with all of these quite heavily standardized.
So you are documenting a new movement called the Third Industrial Revolution?
Joseph Grima: What has emerged over the last couple of years is a movement away from this culture of modernization and an attempt to escape from the heavily formatted models of modernism. This is what we wanted to address in the exhibition. Technology plays a significant role in sparking this revolution because broad access to sophisticated machines has dropped in price today. Also there is the wide access to information and knowledge which all of us have at our fingertips—on our smartphones. That means that social interactions between people have been profoundly transformed by the products that we use. However, there is something else that we wanted to make clear: all of this isn’t new. We wanted to make sure that this exhibition spoke about what some people call the Third Industrial Revolution; or what others call the Age Of Participation; and still others call Open Source. But we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t framed purely in a technological context—with this exhibition we wanted to trace the historical trajectory that really took off after the Second World War with a generation of architects such as Giancarlo De Carlo and Yona Friedman.
If we look further, what can we take from this exhibition?
Joseph Grima: Even though we framed the exhibition in the context of making objects, it actually goes a long way beyond that. It is not only about the frontend of how objects come into the world and how this is changing. We also wanted to look at the repercussions of these objects once they come into the world. That is why certain areas touch a more political, social round, such as the idea of drone journalism, which has vast implications.
That is where it becomes clear that design is a battleground for control and supremacy. What is interesting is that technology and the ability to process significant amounts of information and certain types of complex hardware were traditionally the domain of authority of power—of large corporations with a kind of institutional apparatus.
Can you tell us more about drone journalism, please?
Elian Stefa: There are the military-based drones, and then there is the RoboKopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with high-end cameras, which is steered remotely. It can be used for various purposes, from tracking archaeological sites to location maintenance to journalism. For example, last year a hacked drone filmed the police force during riots in Warsaw, Poland. As such, the drone is a comment on open journalism and open data. Because in the UK drones are used to take pictures of citizens. The political Occupy movement used drones to spread wireless networks (Wi-Fi) in areas so that they could communicate using the micro-blogging service Twitter in order to spread the movement around. This was done using an open-source project called Meshnet. It is creating an Internet connection from one router to the other without any centralized hub.
You were hinting before at the fact that practically anybody who is eager enough could put together one of these elaborate devices.
Joseph Grima: A recurring theme in the exhibition is how sophisticated results can be achieved by basically anybody. For example, a seismograph built with an Arduino micro-processor which is connected to the micro-blogging service Twitter. This was built by a fourteen-year-old Chilean boy. That points to how the world of design is involved as well. Some of the significant projects of our time have the biggest social impact—but they are not actually by designers. That is not so say that design is becoming obsolete. The designer’s role has evolved: an interaction designer, Massimo Banzi, even developed the Arduino chip, a cheap micro-processor which made all these projects possible. In a way, he is a new prototype of designer who produces not objects but systems; who produces a platform that allows everybody else to produce their own. Design embraces everything from architecture to urbanism to code. The democratization of technology, the accessibility of technology, and the cultural shift that comes with it toward openness, toward collaboration and sharing has repercussions on every aspect of daily life. That is why the central interest of this exhibition is daily life.
Thank you so much, Joseph and Elian, for the inspiring interview!