Graduate Fine Arts

Posted September 10, 2020
  • Telhan’s pancake bot makes “algorithmic” or “parametric pancakes”: algorithms decide what is healthier for the user by picking the ingredients, which determine the color of the batter.

Designing Different Futures with Orkan Telhan

What might foods look and taste like—and what might they do to our microbiomes, bodies, and environments—in different futures? How will changing climates around the globe affect methods of food production and consumption? 

These questions are addressed in Designs for Different Futures, a major exhibition co-curated by Associate Professor of Fine Arts Orkan Telhan and organized by the Walker Art Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The presentation this fall at the Walker Art Center features a six-part installation by Telhan entitled Breakfast Before Extinction. It considers such phenomena as bananas pushed to the edge of extinction through industrialized farming, lab-grown edibles like synthetic vanilla, and traditional Turkish simit breads optimized for weight control and gut health.

“Our relationship to food has always been mediated by design,” says Telhan. Writing in the exhibition catalog, he goes on, “Once our basic nutritional needs are met, our diet and tastes become part of our individuality, style, and image. We design ourselves through our diets.”

Telhan’s installation is one of 80 works that address the challenges and opportunities that humans may encounter in the years, decades, and centuries ahead. The Designs for Different Futures exhibition is divided into 11 thematic sections—Labors, Cities, Intimacies, Bodies, Powers, Earths, Foods, Materials, Generations, Informations, and Resources—and brings together an designers from around the world and all fields. Visitors encounter textiles made of seaweed, a typeface that thwarts algorithmic surveillance, a series of books that will only be available 100 years from now, an affordable gene-editing toolbox, a shoe grown from sweat, a couture dress made with a 3D printer, and a system that learns from our sewers. Each of these projects—from small product innovations to large-scale system proposals—asks us to imagine futures different than what we expect, and in doing so, helps us craft a fascinating portrait of our diverse and turbulent present.

Designs for Different Futures is on view at the Walker Art Center through April 11, 2021. The exhibition was on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 22, 2019–March 8, 2020.