Designature: The Nature of Signatures in Art and Design
How shall our signatures define us, even as they define themselves?
Designature interrogates the nature of agency—the essential “signature” found in everything, from the simplest forms of life to humans, machines, and everyday objects.
The book features new kinds of signatures—living organisms, algorithms, tools, and visualizations—that are designed in light of new theories and technologies from artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, new materialism, and object-oriented ontology.
These designs ultimately serve as critical reflections on society, and offer alternative forms of critique to urgent issues such as xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, and the ethics of manipulating nature.
Copies of the book can be purchased from Revolver Publishing.
Soft cover, swiss binding, 28 x 20 cm, 184 pages
For the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Microbial Design Studio is used to design a special diet using traditional Turkish simits. We have mixed different strains of wild yeast that are sourced from different people and places in Istanbul with standardized lab cultures that are capable of producing vitamins, flavors, and smells. The “microbial simit diet” has a novel simit for everyday; it suggest a different perception of the microbial gut flora not only for traditional weight control but to diversify the culture inside us. The 30-day diet spans over the duration of the biennial and intend to become a commentary on the desires of controlling the appearance, form, and aesthetics of the body and its image—both for ourselves and the organisms—by designing them from within.
What we choose to eat and not to eat ultimately reflects our ideology. Here, the Microbial Design Studio intends to bring more designers to the conversation on genetically sourced products. The yeasts grown with the microbial design studio are genetically modified organisms. They source special vitamins and flavors for the dough to make every simit different from each other. Whether we are in favor or against genetic manipulation, the microbial design studio and the diet shows how to do it at home, in the kitchen or at the design studio. It invites the designer to take sides in the discussion and have a more discursive understanding of Microbial Humanities not only by studying it but also by shaping it from within.
Are We Human, 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Studio-X, Istanbul, 2016
Allen, Joshua. Dr. Frankenstein’s Breakfast: Biodesign at the Istanbul Design Biennial, The Guide Istanbul. Issue September-October 2016, pp. 54-55.
Photography by Engin Gercek.
Bananaworks explores the future of food and the evolution of human taste from the perspective of microbial design.
Today, what we consume is not only shaped by biological evolution but also by complex social and economic decisions imposed by humans. Since the earliest days, we grow what we like; what evolves through nature is highly implicated by our anthropocentric “taste.” Today, Cavendish, the most popular banana in the international market, for instance, is mostly a human artifact; it is an outcome of a long history of selective breeding practices that standardized its form, texture, and taste. As a living artifact, on the other hand, Cavendish is a monoculture—it cannot grow by itself and rather needs to get cloned across different plantations around the world. As it cannot sexually reproduce, it also cannot diversify its own biology and“taste.”
A series of Bananaworks features biochemically novel concoctions that are made of probiotics, microbe-sourced proteins, and wild banana water. They function as hybrid semi-living encapsulations that can diversify their taste on their own and create infinitely new possibilities that cannot be created by nature-born (wild) bananas or microorganisms alone.
The microbial designs inside the encapsulations were designed using the Microbial Design Studio. The platform was used to genetically transform bacteria so that they can synthesize different flavors. The organisms were automatically cultured inside the platform and then incorporated into different concoctions.
Bananaworks research grew out a residency that is enabled through the European Commission EC FP7 project SYNENERGENE (Responsible Research and Innovation in Synthetic Biology), which is executed by the Center for Fundamental Living Technology (FLinT, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark) and Biofaction (Vienna, Austria).
Special thanks to Steen Rasmussen, Jens Hauser, and Markus Schmidt for their guidance and support.
February 6 - May 7, 2016 - Wetware: Art, Agency, Animation at Beall Center for Art and Technology, Irvine, CA.
Biorealize: Microbial Design Studio is a countertop biofabrication machine that brings together the capabilities of a biology wetlab into a single inexpensive piece of hardware to design, culture, and test genetically modified organisms.
The studio is built as a modular machine that includes design, analysis and flow control software to automate all stages of microbial design from bacterial transformation to incubation, lysis, and purification.
The machine streamlines the process of designing microorganisms to grow biologically-derived macromolecules (e.g., proteins) and can be used for running concurrent experiments where different DNA designs and growth conditions can be parametrically and combinatorially explored.
The Microbial Design Studio addresses the needs of next generation designers, scientists, and engineers who need professional design and research tools to work with synthetic biology and life sciences through open-ended experimentation and reproducible research.
For more information please see:
A Now for MENAM integrates various historical and contemporary practices of time keeping across the cultural geography of Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean (MENAM). Instead of unifying the different time zones and calendar systems used within this vast geography, the calendar offers a set of discursive perceptions and experiences of time embedded within different cultural artifacts and symbolisms—jokes, recipes, news, or visualizations of high-frequency trading. The application brings together the slow and the fast, the personal and the social, the past and the future and algorithmically curates a ‘now’ to be shared across MENAM.
The calendar works as a real-time mobile application that delivers images, videos, information or text from different archives and online sources. The format refers to the calendars published in Turkey since 1900s known as the “educational calendar with time” (Turkish: Saatli Maarif Takvimi). These calendars offer a daily digest of practical information—quotes, recipes, remedies, suggested names for newborns—as well information about significant events from the past. A Now for MENAM offers a contemporary take on this format and offers a critical commentary on the periodicity, synchronicity and the continuity of temporal experiences in an intellectual geography shaped by a multitude of social, cultural, and political experiences.
A short write-up about the piece is featured at the 10th issue of Cleaver. Now is Elsewhere
The Emancipati Chapel (2014) is a space for contemplation, critical reflection, and discussion to support faith-based communities. The room serves sermons mixed from personal recordings, online news sources, and historical audio footage overlaid onto electronic music tracks designed by sound artists. The sermons feature alternative opinions on current political and religious issues and present critical voices next to each other.
The chapel includes two electronic rose windows placed at the opposite walls of the room. The windows animate geometric figures that correspond to the different sections of the soundtrack in which light patterns interact with the sound and with each other.
"The Emancipati Chapel in Detroit" features an audio track for Detroit based on issues ranging from social injustice and marginalization in the city to communal responses against the conflicts in the Middle East. The installation is developed for the People's Biennial 2014 curated by Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffman. Special thanks to Ken Lum for inviting me to the exhibition.
The soundtrack of the installation is designed in collaboration with Erika from Detroit's Interdimensional Transmissions.
September 12 - January 4, 2015. People's Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, MI.
These are the times when everyone remembers and forgets at the same time. Tapes, bluffs, lies, or scandals circulate in the public consciousness—only briefly—either to manufacture consent and make us take sides, or to disguise intricate political agendas. Ultimately nothing persists. What is being watched, read, or mediated is often not so important. The media news don’t sediment but rather cast shadows on memories that make up an audience—a public—of believers, learners and ultimately forgetters. The Shadow Arithmetic investigates the gaze of this invisible public and examines how it forms itself out of the desire to see the forbidden, secret, scandalous, and the immoral. The videos on display are footage from recent memories manufactured by the Turkish media. They are obtained from online sources and permanently fixed into consciousness to function as reminders of this public, which not only lives before but also behind the screens. Videos, images, words, opinions add up; some reinforce some negate another, but this arithmetic mostly matters as a logic of substitution and a desire to access the forbidden: for a public to be able to come into being not from roots, kinship, land or language but through a shared yearning for amnesia.
March 21 - April 20, METUArt 15, Ankara, Turkey, 2014.
United Colors of Dissent (UCoD, 2013 - http://ucod.org) is a data-driven performance designed for live public interaction using mobile phones and public displays. Participants collectively respond to a series of questions in their preferred language using a web-based voting interface running on their mobile phones. At every question, UCoD builds real-time graphics based on the answers and features them both on the phones and the displays. The performance intends to capture the linguistic and socio-cultural profile of different communities in urban environments by creating real-time visualizations that can map the prejudices, assumptions, and biases we may have about each other. UCoD is commissioned by “Connecting Cities,” a network aiming to build up a connected infrastructure of media facades, urban screens and projection sites to circulate artistic and social content.
United Colors of Dissent is a collaborative project with Mahir M. Yavuz.
A 5 min. documentary video of the project can be watched here:
Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria, 2013
Videospread Marseille, Marseilles, France, 2013
Amber Festival, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013
Telhan, Orkan and Mahir M. Yavuz. “United Colors of Dissent.” 2015. Accessed March 9. http://civicmediaproject.org/works/civic-media-project/unitedcolorsofdissent. Link
The Road of Cones: The Eviction of Social Memory (2013) is set up as a reminder for the so-called transformations in public memory of Turkey. The structures translate the transient and fluid nature of events through data captured from online media and turn them layer by layer into conic form. Instead of taking the form of didactic visualizations, they feature streams of data; an abundance of information that is to be experienced as a symbolic embodiment. Walking through the road of cones, the audience witnesses an homage to all histories of eviction in these ancient lands; from the roads that are furnished with statues that stand for once ‘victorious kings’ to public spaces and monuments that glorify the ethnic, nationalistic, and religious cleansing projects that handed over power from one class to another. The cones seek to be read as discursive depictions of complex realities rather than work as abstract mapping, diagramming, and interpretation schemes which promise to reveal a truth, either in the servitude of the evicted or the evictor.
The Road of Cones is a collaborative project with Mahir M. Yavuz.
13th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013
"The Eventual" combines traditional screen printing with synthetic biology. It is designed as a stand-alone microbial battery that uses bacteria to grow electricity to power up an image printed with electroluminescent inks. Feasting on rich soil, Geobacter bacteria forms a biofilm on the electrodes of the battery to produce electricity. As electricity becomes available, it begins to power the printed orb image, causing it to flicker and glow.
Excerpts below are from Molly Petrilla's write up at The Penn Gazette: Art for the Future
"In designing the piece, Telhan says he and Neff strove for a “noir” look and feel. “We wanted an object you could place inside the Blade Runner house or the Minority Report house,” he adds. “We played around with different images, the look and feel of the glass container, how much dirt and the different ingredients in the dirt—it’s quite a bit more complex than it looks.”
Telhan began exploring synthetic biology—a field that fuses biotechnology with design, computation and electronics—when he came to Penn in 2010. “It’s a sub-field that is founded by computer scientists and engineers and designers,” he says. “They’re not necessarily interested in making medicine or human-related research, but rather in using biology as a way of investigating what other things we can do with living systems in relation to human needs, desires and wants."
Read more about the piece from Adam Clark Estes' write-up at Gizmodo.
As part of my PhD research (2008-2013), I have been looking at ways to design biological systems to raise questions that lie outside the interests of the sciences and engineering. I have designed experimental living artifacts--cellular constructs, modified organisms, and biological hardware--to demonstrate what will it mean to live in a society with biological design, when designed organisms will increasingly become part of our daily lives and shape our aesthetic, social and cultural values.
I have designed a microbial perfumery that demonstrates the use of genetically modified bacteria to synthesize parts of Sandalwood oil and its smell. The "Oil well" (2013)is the prototype of a do-it-yourself learning and biofabrication machine that visualizes the different stages of a bacterial transformation, incubation and protein synthesis and use synthetic membranes to encapsulate the biologies.
The artifacts created during the "Living Commons" research are documented and published via lectures, publications and my teaching.
Workshop teacher, Making_Life Workshop series, Finnish Bioarts Society, Aalto University Helsinki. May 2014, November 2015, May 2015.
Designing Ideologically Modified Organisms, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers,The State University of New Jersey. February 27, 2013.
Design in Biochemical Space, part of the public lecture series at the Estonian Academy of the Arts, Tallinn, December 18, 2012.
Synthetic Ideologies of the Synthetic Living, part of Biopolitics, Society, and Performance Conference, Trinity College Dublin, October 31, 2012.
Of Mice and Men, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Western Australia. May 23, 2012.
Biosynthesis and The Future of Sandalwood
SymbioticA (Perth/ Australia, 2012)
Telhan, Orkan. For Designing Within: A Spatial Theory for Encapsulating Designed Biologies in Paradigms of Computing: Making, Machines, and Models For Design Agency in Architecture, eds. Dr. David Jason Gerber, Mariana Ibañez. eVolo, 2014.
Telhan Orkan, Discursive Methods in Synthetic Biological Design in the proceedings of Design Research Society Conference (DRS 2012), Bangkok, Thailand. 2012.
The Emancipati Reader (2012) is a discursive reading instrument that addresses the needs of progressive religious practitioners who are willing to adopt new styles of learning to diversify their sources of knowledge. As users research their topic of interest using the left screen of a dual-tablet interface, the Reader dynamically prepares a number of adversarial “point of views” related to the content and presents them on the right screen. The instrument not only intends to assure that the subject is studied in a hyper-linked, socially-networked, and distributed form meshed with data, images, and sound, but that the subject is also presented with opposing arguments that are prepared with custom filtering and content-matching software. Through a comparative study, the Emancipati users rely on confronting first with others’ way of looking at the world to form an opinion; exercise a Kantian form of ‘judgment,’ where the need for exchange with the opposing argument is necessary to become aware of one’s own values, both for upholding a position or taking on others.’
1st Istanbul Design Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey, 2012
The Emancipati Ensemble (2013) is an installation that features readers that address the needs of a more discursive religious pedagogy. These readers connect with each other and form “reading ensembles” among two to four children. The screens of the tablets make a shared reading surface and let children read, watch, and learn together. The dual-tablet interface presents information with alternative points of view by using custom content analysis software. Children get exposed to perspectives from multiple points of view that span across different religions, belief systems, orthodox, secular, scientific or agnostic opinions at the same time. Thus, children not only can introduce their own preferences and styles of learning by picking from a multitude of sources but also share with each other what they individually encounter during their studies.
New Museum, New York, NY, 2013
Limewarf Gallery, London, UK, 2013
Workshop III (UPenn)
Designing for Collective Action
March 25-29, 2015
The public domain is born each time that one individually or collectively exercises their civic rights in public by speaking up, resisting, seeking change or working towards transformative action. Historically, artists and designers have been instrumental in instigating, curating, or enabling such forms of collective action by mobilizing groups around shared interests. However, such collective actions run the risk today not of creating a sensation but rather of sensationalizing themselves, and in the process marginalizing greater awareness of the very issues at stake.
Acknowledging both the risks and affordances involved, the "Designing for Collective Action" workshop will focus explore ow can artists and designers come together to create new public domains, both online and offline, through collective action?
This workshop is part of an ongoing workshop series called “Design for Civic Engagement: Instruments of Expression, Dialogue, and Critique.” The series is organized by Krzysztof Wodiczko from Harvard GSD, Orkan Telhan from University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and Sergio Araya from Universidad Adolfo Ibañez Design Lab. Previous meetings “Workshop I: From Individual to Collective” and “Workshop II: Individual & Collective’s Relation to Public Space” were respectively held in Santiago and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This initiative is funded by The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University.
Work from past workshops can be seen here.
As part of the workshop, there will be a roundtable discussion on Friday, March 27, 6:00PM at the Slought Foundation.
The workshop will take place at the Morgan Building and be offered to a limited number of students. To apply to the workshop please email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
eCrafting Circles (2013) integrates fine arts, design, engineering and technology into science education. The project intends to form informal learning and making collectives that share new designs using electronic textiles and printed electronics. The project offers a new model for informal science education that can serve underserved groups inside and outside of schools and science museums and ultimately intends to build an online community that can scale up locally and nationwide. Our design making & sharing portal ecrafting.org is launched on February 2014 for initial testing.
eCrafting Circles is a collaborative project with Dr. Yasmin Kafai (Penn Graduate School of Education) and Dr. Karen Elinich (from the Franklin Institute) and is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No.1238172.
Learning with Mobile x Printed Media was a two-day workshop held during the Mobility Shifts Conference (The New School, 2011) that explored alternative models of learning using mobile media and paper-based interfaces.
The workshop was themed as exploring the "Free City." In the first day, participants were introduced to new applications of printed electronics in critical cartography, citizen science, and civic media and in the second day, asked to map the free and informal economy of New York using a custom printed interface and a mobile video sharing platform.
The workshop was supported by Matt Neff and Kate Clayton from the University of Pennsylvania and done in collaboration with Federico Casalegno and researchers from the MIT Mobile Experience Laboratory.
Learning with Mobile x Printed Media, two-day workshop at Mobility Shifts Conference at New School, New York (October 10-11, 2011)
'Dust Serenade' is a reenactment of an acoustic experiment done by German physicist August Kundt. Inspired by the Chladni's famous sand figures visualizing sound waves in solid materials, Kundt devised an experiment for visualizing longitudinal sound waves through fine lycopodium dust; a setup that would allow him to measure the speed of sound in different gases.
Kundt was a strong believer in experimental methods over purely theoretical inquiry in a time when the disciplines of theoretical and experimental physics started to diverge.
'Dust Serenade' intends to remind us the materiality of sound. Tubes filled with scraps of words and letters--cut-up theory--interact with sound waves and turn into figures of dust. Here, visitors can modulate the frequency of the sound emitted by moving a rod and create different harmonic sound effects. As sound waves figure, refigure, and disfigure the text, we invite visitors to rethink about the tension between their theorical knowlegde and the sensory experience.
Dust Serenade is one of a series of interactive sound projects that enable visitors to experience the physical aspects of sound, presence, and atmosphere. Works in the series have been shown at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Zagreb, Istanbul and São Paulo.
Dust Serenade is a collaboration with Markus Decker and Dietmar Offenhuber.
Laboratoria: Art & Science Space, Moscow, 2012
M.I.T. Museum - Emerging Technologies Gallery, Cambridge, MA, 2010
Echologue is a new type of public media that functions as a social catalyst in public spaces and urban environments. It is made of a double-sided foldable display architecture that can be customized for individual or public interaction. By bending the tiles into different geometries, users can reverse the flow of the graphics and provide input for the content.
Echologue is used as public interface for sensing and displaying socio-cultural characteristics of a place based on its sonic features. It is built to reflect its surroundings like a smart mirror, highlight the salient details and patterns in the environment and contribute to our understanding of the perception of social places. This interface senses ambient sound, records deliberate user input and displays a visualization of the activity in that space as its output. The design explores the utility of sound for envisioning new social, cultural and entertainment uses of public places and help us shape our relationships with each other with new social interfaces embedded in urban settings.
Pixelspaces 07 *OnField*, Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria, September 5-11, 2007.
Telhan, Orkan. "Materials with Computational Experience and Style." To appear in Journal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, A Special Issue on Material Computing, Forthcoming 2010.
The Cloud (2008) is an interactive public sculpture that responds to human interaction. It can display graphics, animation and video on its three-dimensional surface. It expresses context awareness using hundreds of sensors and over 15,000 individually addressable optical fibers and respond to the audience by visual or audio output. Constructed of carbon glass, the Cloud encourages visitors to touch and interact with information in new ways, manifesting emotions and behavior through sound and a dichotomy of luminescence and darkness.
The Cloud is developed at the MIT Mobile Experience Lab and commissioned by Pitti Immagine to be installed at Fortezza da Basso, Florence.
A video of the project can be found here
Concept and interaction design.
Lead software and hardware designer.
Pitti Uomo 2008, June 18-22, Florence.
Locast (2009) is a platform for sharing and discovering location-based user-generated videos and production quality multimedia content provided by RAI TV.
It consists of a combination of mobile and wearable computing elements supported by a distributed Web application. Content gathered from RAI TV’s historical archives and user-generated media are linked to physical locations in Venice in order to be accessible to all those visiting the space.
Specific Project Role
Wearable design lead.
Wearable software, hardware and product design
with John Luciani and Guz Gutman.
July 3-10, 2009, Venice.
Ride.link (2008) is a sustainable ride-sharing system that utilizes bracelets, mobile phones and a web infrastructure to create a peer-to-peer trust network.
The system, comprised of social networking, reputation management and referral systems makes it possible to coordinate the matching of drivers and passengers with preferences entered online in user profiles. An alcohol sensor is built into a wearable bracelet, which can communicate with the system.
At the end of a night out partying and drinking with friends a Ridelink user can breathe into their breathalyzer bracelet to find out if it is unsafe for them to drive. Using a link to their mobile phone, the system can then help the user find a ride with a driver they trust. The system tracks successful ride shares and provides incentives to participants accordingly. Ridelink not only promotes responsible alcohol consumption, it encourages social sustainability by allowing users to self-organize into their own ride-share pools.
The prototypes were tested Brescia in December 2008 and January 2009 with 50 bracelets.
Ride.link is developed at the MIT Mobile Experience Lab.
Specific Project Role
Design Lead (concept, interaction design and bracelet development).
Digital Image Making with Materiality, Energy, and Living Matter
Matters of the Image provides an integrative view of the technology, design, and applications of digital image making within the material domain. It features case studies that illustrate different aspects of state-based design along with new image-making technologies—such as liquid deposition, printed electronics, and synthetic biology—and show how digital images can combine the logic of computation with physical media and find applications in fields as diverse as information visualization, civic media, healthcare, science and technology education.
Throughout the book, the readers are exposed both to the technical context and the design methods for making matter-based digital images. This will not only provide them with an expanded form of digital literacy that incorporates material, fabrication, and biochemical design into visual culture but also help them develop a very interdisciplinary perspective on design by learning ways incorporate knowledge from fields as diverse as graphic design, electronics, material science, and synthetic biology to their practice.