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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

WSA professor to exhibit work at Istanbul Design Biennial

Published: 16 September 2016
Elephant Clock
Elephant Clock

Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics Jussi Parikka talks about his upcoming exhibit in the Istanbul Design Biennial.

Could you explain what you are exhibiting in a bit more detail?

We are bringing to the Istanbul Design Biennial a section on automata from what has been called the period of Arab-Islamic Renaissance approximately between 800-1200. This period saw an intense contribution to scientific and technological culture by way of designs of new automata, self-moving machines, before technological culture in Europe really started. A lot of this is expressed through the key manuscripts, such as Baghdad located Banu Musa brothers’ Book of Ingenious Devices (850) [] and al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206). Al-Jazari was living in the Diyarbakir region, part of current day Turkey. We are exhibiting for example a replica of the famous Elephant Clock that was in al-Jazari’s manuscript of ingenious designs.

But we are not doing this only to showcase historical arguments about this fascinating bit of history of technology in the Middle-East; we are also playing with the idea of “what if”: how do we use ideas in speculative design and design fiction to look at such early inspirations and to create a different geographical way to understand development of technological culture – a deep time of technological culture that looks at developments also outside the usual European biased perspective. This part is done in a seminar and a workshop where we will discuss not only the significance of the heritage but also its usefulness for a critical, alternative view to speculative design. What would technological, even computer, culture look like if it emerged in Baghdad, let’s say end of the 9th century? How could we see these early manuscripts as design books for a speculative future world? Such are fascinating questions with a lot of interesting geopolitical connotations. We don’t want to just display interesting and curious objects. In design studies, the more interesting questions have to do with cultural connotations and contexts in which design is an activity that shares a lot with art, science, technology.

What significance does this exhibition hold for the Art School? Will it affect the content taught to students?

Winchester School of Art works all the time with global partners, institutions and ideas; it means looking outside the canon of usually very Euro or US centric narratives. This collaboration at the Istanbul Design Biennial is a good example of this work where design practice and critical media theoretical research meet. This project is also related to what our new research group, Archaeologies of Media and Technology ( is interested in: to look at the intersections of art, design, technological and scientific culture. We are also interested in historical questions that still have an impact today. Part of the media archaeological method has been formulated earlier by other scholars as about finding something new in the old, and something old in the new. Of course, we bring our ideas in research always as part of teaching across our many pathways.

What potential benefits are there for the Art School from this event? 

It’s a high-profile event with a high number of visitors, and it has big visibility in the global design field. Hence the Biennial represents an ideal project for us to partner with. The previous Biennial boasted over 100,000 visitors. Over the past two years the School and I personally have been closely working with Turkish partners and in Istanbul, organising seminars and more. Again, the direct benefits are about the contribution to the international agenda and about the successful international impact activities that tie our media archaeological research with such institutions as the Biennial.

The Biennial launches for the public on October 22, 2016 in Istanbul. The main theme is “Are we human”

The new Winchester School of Art research group Archaeologies of Media & Technology launches with a special symposium on October 26, in Winchester.



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