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5th Istanbul Design Biennial opens to the public on 15 October

The biennial will continue to evolve digitally and physically for six months with newly commissioned projects

Curated by Mariana Pestana with Sumitra Upham and Billie Muraben,Empathy Revisited: Designs for more than one, the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial opens its doors to the public – digitally and physically – on 15 October.

Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) under the sponsorship of VitrA and with the support of Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the biennial will take place in exhibition venues, outdoor spaces in Istanbul and digital platforms. The projects displayed in the exhibition venues will be open to visit until 15November 2020; while the interventions in the city, research projects and video series will continue to evolve until 30April 2021, and beyond.

Istanbul Design Biennial Director Deniz Ova said:It is clear that we now need to rethink the formats of all our activities, events, and especially of the biennial itself. Over the years we questioned the biennial format as such and have been experimenting and shaping its methods. The current unrest and constant shifts in paradigms has proven that newer approaches need to be adopted. The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial comes at a turning point when cultural institutions and organisations are struggling to survive and maintain support for the many layers of the cultural infrastructure. In a time as such, it is essential to question how to conserve the importance of our institutions and biennials, while transforming their content and contexts.

We believe that the biennials are spaces of exception that create awareness and allow knowledge exchange despite all restrictions. In the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, we aspire to create a place for our audiences to see the world from the eyes of a practitioner working on the urgent issues in the world while using design as a tool for seeing, learning and questioning.”

5th Istanbul Design Biennial curator Mariana Pestana said:“This will be a biennial that slowly evolves from October this year until April 2021. In face of the many and constantly shifting challenges and regulations brought about by the pandemic, we devised a programme that rather than resisting or ignoring the current scenario, adapts to it. We propose a biennial that is generative and locally produced, with built-in legacy strategies, developed in dialogue with, and catered for, the citizens of Istanbul. Amidst an acute climate crisis and a global state of social isolation, the biennial invites us to think critically about how we relate to one another and to others, be them human or other bodies – biologic, bacterial, and geologic.

We want to position design as a mediation tool between us and the world around us, design as a tool to sense the world and its many constituents. And we are interested in asking, what perspectives may this sensing reveal? Does it connect us with elements, matters and living beings that we don’t normally connect with? And does such a connection elicit empathy in us?”

Speaking on behalf of the biennial’s sponsor VitrA, Eczacıbaşı Building Products CEO Özgen Özkan said: "We're facing challenges in the fields of health, hygiene and sustainability that, late as it may be, are now at the top of the global agenda. These issues, which the pandemic has brought to the forefront, have been at the centre of VitrA's innovation efforts for many years. Our new technologies and solutions, and especially our no-touch products, are aimed at improving hygiene. While developing these solutions, our focus is people: We put ourselves in the position of users and try to understand and then develop our designs with their current and future needs in mind."

5th Istanbul Design Biennial’s opening video, in which Istanbul Design Biennial Director Deniz Ova and the curatorial team Mariana Pestana, Sumitra Upham and Billie Muraben explain the biennial in detail, can be streamed on İKSV’s YouTube channel. Watch here.

Empathy Revisited: Designs for more than one

The biennial takes place during a global pandemic, a unique moment in time when the whole world is engaged in imagining what will come next. It’s a time of rupture and questioning.

The biennial brings together ideas and projects that seek to define a new role for design based on empathy. As a mediator of emotions and feelings, design is presented here as a practice that takes care as its main purpose. Designers adopt sensitive, diplomatic, sometimes therapeutic functions, with the aim of connecting us with one another but also with the world around us, with other species, with microorganisms, soil, water and even the universe.

Aspiring to carve out a space of responsibility and nourish a culture of attachment towards the more-than-human, this biennial explores designs for multiple bodies, dimensions and perspectives. The projects on display encourage us to rethink practices of care and civility at this critical moment in time, and to collectively build new systems and structures for reconnecting. The biennial offers critical tools and alternative pathways in face of urgent climate and economic crises, a general state of social deprivation and an exhausted global industrial model. Designs for more than one are those that take into consideration not just their immediate user or client, but the many constituents and complex entanglements inherent to any design process.

Biennial’s sections

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial presents a generative programme comprising three main axes: an online series titled Critical Cooking Show, a set of research projects on the Mediterranean basin to be archived at the Library of Land and Sea, and a series of interventions in the city titled New Civic Rituals.

At home, visitors can experience the digital Critical Cooking Show programme; a series of films that explore how food exchange, preparation and consumption relates to urgent ecological, economic and geopolitical conditions. Every Sunday, from 18 October, a new film will be released on the website of the biennial and at e-flux architecture.

In Istanbul, visitors can book a place at the Library of Land and Sea at ARK Kültür between 15 October and 15 November, where they can learn about the 10 research projects that the biennial is supporting in the Mediterranean basin, all driven by care and activism, investigating our relationship with soil and water in order to reveal hidden networks of food production.

They can also visit Pera Museum to find two major installations by The Rodina and Kyriaki Goni and a screening of Empathy Sessions, a series of films that will expand their understanding of empathy. Throughout the city, in gardens, on piers and squares, they will find a number of New Civic Rituals: long-term interventions that generate new kinds of encounters with new public infrastructures across scales and bodies, comprising people but also birds, stars, plants, and microbes.


The Critical Cooking Show is a digital programme of films, lectures and performances that reflect on and critique our relationship to food, and reimagine the kitchen as a space central to design thinking and production. A series of episodes that will run until March 2021, each one hosted by art, design and architecture practitioners and thinkers, the Critical Cooking Show will explore how food exchange, preparation and consumption relates to urgent ecological, economic and geopolitical conditions.

Where? Episodes will be shown at the Pera Museum, and published on e-flux Architecture, the biennial website and İKSV’s YouTube channel.

When? 18 October 2020 – 28 February 2021

Participants: 2050+; BUREAU (Daniel Zamarbide) with Chef Walter El Nagar with Filipe Felizardo; Vivian Caccuri; Linda Schilling Cuellar; depatriarchise design, Mayar El-Bakry and Romi Lee; Dirty Furniture Magazine; Laila Gohar; Ben Goldner and Emma Leigh Macdonald; Ilana Harris-Babou; Nelly Ben Hayoun & Chef Rabah Ourrad; Asako Iwama, Iris Lacoudre, Camille Sineau; Luiza Prado de O. Martins; Valeria Meiller & Agustin Schang; MOLD and Yardy World; Mutfak مطبخ Workshop; Mariana Sanchez Salvador & Rain Wu; Zuri Camille de Souza; Ayşenaz Toker and Merve Tuna; Laura Wilson


The Library of Land and Sea, is an educational space that invites visitors to rethink the concept of the Mediterranean, through interrogating our relationship with land and sea. It contains a collection of research projects by designers and thinkers who are mapping and building new tools and reflections for social, economic and environmental resilience in the region. Visitors can book a space at the library to view and explore research materials from each project.

Where?ARK Kültür

When? The projects will be presented in ARK Kültür from 15 October 2020 to 15 November 2020, with the projects continuing to evolve throughout 2021.

Participants: Dele Adeyemo; Black Athena Collective; Luigi Coppola, Vivien Sansour and Pelin Tan; Counterspace; Aslıhan Demirtaş + UrbanAgrIst; FRAUD; theOtherDada; Anna Puigjaner, MAIO; TiriLab; Aslı Uludağ


Spread across the city of Istanbul, New Civic Rituals are interventions that rehearse new kinds of encounters, hosted by specific community groups and sites. From communal cooking to gardens and playgrounds, these projects have a restorative function, providing experiences of being together, reconnecting, and caring for the city and its multiple inhabitants. They generate encounters across scales and bodies, among people but also birds, plants and microbes.

This programme is developed in collaboration with the Young Curators Group, a team of curators based in Istanbul responsible for establishing links with the specific context of the city.

Where? The projects will spread across the city of Istanbul at Kalamış Park, Moda Coastal Park, Fenerbahçe Park Community Garden, Kuzguncuk Urban Garden and Kuzguncuk Pier in the Anatolian side; Beşiktaş Pier and Karaköy Pier in the European side,as well as Pera Museum.

When? The projects will be installed on 15 October 2020 and most of them will be long-term installations in the city with activations until April 2021.

Participants: Eli Bensusan, Bits to Atoms + BeirutMakers, DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) / Sandi Hilal & Alessandro Petti, Dansbana!, Kyriaki Goni, Marti Guixé, public works with Freddie Wiltshire and Billy Adams, The Rodina, SKREI with Francisca Sottomayor & Sofia Magalhães, Soft Baroque, Studio Ossidiana, Soraia Gomes Teixeira, Orkan Telhan + elii (A project by IMNA)


The biennial will present a screening of films that expand the notion of empathy, titled Empathy Sessions, at Pera Museum, and a series of satellite projects developed in collaboration with partnering cultural institutions. The films at the Pera Museum will be screened every Thursday and Sunday at 13.00.

The biennial will also be the scene of various satellite projects developed with people and collectives from around the world. These projects will be accessible from various parts of Istanbul, as well as through online platforms. Detailed information can be found on the biennial’s website.

Participants: Paula Gaetano Adi; Emmy Bacharach; Meriem Bennani; Berliner Festspiele / Immersion; Calum Bowden; Ben Thorp Brown; Ibiye Camp; atlas Harran Design Team; Jawa El Khash; Sophie Krier and Erik Wong; Martina Muzi; Sophia Psarra, Uta Staiger, Claudia Sternberg; Alice dos Reis; Henriette Waal, Lucia Babina, Mevce Ciraci and Kathi Sterzig

Istanbul Design Biennial Audio Guide

Visitors will be able visit the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial with the “Sesli Rehber” (Audio Guide) application of İKSV, developed with the support of The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR),available for free download on Google Play and AppStore in Turkish, English and Arabic.

Visitor information

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial can be visited free of charge at all venues.

ARK Kültür, which hosts the Library of Land & Sea exhibition, is open every day except Monday between 10.00 and 18.00 until 15 November 2020. Advance reservations are necessary to visit ARK Kültür. Visit rezervasyon.iksv.org to get more information on times and to book a slot.

Pera Museum is open from 11.00 to 18.00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and from 12.00 to 18.00 on Sunday. The Museum is closed on Monday. The Empathy Sessions and Critical Cooking Show screenings at Pera Museum, as well as the installations by Kyriaki Goni and The Rodina, which are a part of the New Civic Rituals programme, will also run until 15 November 2020.

ARK Kültür and Pera Museum will be open on the Republic Day, 29 October, Sunday.

Workshops for children

İKSV Alt Kat and Pera Museum Learning Programmes will organise free workshops for school groups and children aged 7-12 between 20 October and 14 November 2020 in parallel with the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial. Inspired by the biennial works, the workshops present participants with the opportunity to question, discuss, develop awareness and create their own works on topics such as species and life, food culture, ecology and climate change.

The workshops will be held for free via Zoom. Further information about the workshops can be found on the Pera Learning website.

Istanbul Design Biennial social media and podcast series

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial presents various social media and podcast series, which can be followed on its social media accounts.

The Istanbul Design Biennial has started a podcast series entitled “Design Biennial Talks” under the sponsorship of VitrA, which includes talks with the curators and participants of the previous biennials such as Zoë Ryan,Jan Boelen, Vera Sacchetti,Nadine Botha, Judith Seng, Camilo Oliveira and Emre Arolat. Through these conversations, the podcast guests reinterpret the exhibitions and projects from the biennial’s history that are still relevant today. The talks are availableon İKSV’s Spotify account and Apple Podcasts.

The biennial will also initiate a brand new podcast series entitled “Empathy Revisited” with the curatorial team and participants from the fifth edition. Stay tuned for the podcast series to be published in November on İKSV’s Spotify account and Apple Podcasts.

A series of short stories presented by the Young Curators Group as part of the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial – Empathy Revisited: designs for more than one, Appetisers look into kitchen practices that used to be – or still is – a part of urban and everyday life in Istanbul and Turkey through 8 weekly posts on social media.  These examples show us how past knowledge, economic structures, local production, habits and rituals have developed the ways we live, share, and consume. They also reveal how past materials, objects and spaces may still have values to look into today’s context in terms of locality, sustainability, hygiene, resistance, intimacy and so on. Appetisers posts can be found on Istanbul Design Biennial’s Instagram account.

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial also present two biennial-inspired filters to Instagram users. Inspired by the visual identity of the biennial, the Instagram filters Empathy Aura and Empathy Membrane, created by the biennial's Experience Sponsor Digilogue, invite users to engage with the Empathy Revisited narrative. Digilogue also transforms Soraia Gomes Teixeira’s Public Devices for Therapy in Beşiktaş Pier into an augmented reality experience, as part of the biennial’s New Civic Rituals programme.

5th Istanbul Design Biennial team

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Mariana Pestana, with Sumitra Upham(Curator of Programmes) and Billie Muraben (Assistant Curator & Deputy Editor). The graphic identity is by Studio Maria João Macedo, the exhibition design is by Future Anecdotes and the sound design is by Maxwell Sterling. The Young Curators Group are Nur Horsanalı, Ulya Soley and Eylül Şenses.

5th Istanbul Design Biennial supporters

The 5th Istanbul Design Biennial is organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) under the sponsorship of VitrA and with the support of Republic of TurkeyMinistry of Culture and Tourism.

Borsa Istanbul supports the biennial as the Foundation with the Highest Contribution.

Biennial’s panels are sponsored by VitrA, whereas biennial’s Experience Sponsor is Digilogue, a Technology and Creativity platform, powered by Zorlu Holding and Zorlu PSM.

İKSV Insurance Sponsor is Zurich Insurance Group and Recycling Sponsor is Coca-Cola.

Other contributing corporations and institutions of the biennial are Arçelik, Türk Ekonomi Bankası (TEB), Tempo,Ek Biç Ye İç, Nippon Paint, Yıldız Entegreand Jofebar Panoramah!.

The biennial also receives support from the the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Kültür AŞIstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Beşiktaş Municipality,Kadıköy Municipality, Üsküdar Municipality and Beyoğlu Municipality.

Contributing institutions of the biennial are, Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Istanbul,Acción Cultural Espaňola (AC/E), IASPIS, Goethe-Institut Istanbul, Prohelvetia, Graham Foundation, Onassis STEGI, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Camões - Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua I.P., Pláka Porto, Matadero Madrid, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Fundaçao EDP, SAHA Association Supporting Contemporary Art from Turkey, British Council, Galata M84, Berliner Festspiele / Immersion, Stimuleringsfonds, Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul and Weitzman School of Design.

Venue supporters of the biennial are, Pera Museum, ARK Kültür, Fenerbahçe Park Community Garden, Saint-Joseph Private French High School, Kuzguncuk Neigbourhood Association and Turkey Design Council.

The Founding Sponsor of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts is Eczacıbaşı Group.

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