Weitzman News

Posted April 23, 2021
  • Microbial Fruits of Istanbul on view in Özgürlük Park as part of the Istanbul Design Biennial

  • Device for "high-throughput, automated culturing of genetically modified organisms" created by Biorealize

  • Orkan Telhan’s Ouruboros Steak in “Designs for Different Futures” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

  • Kit made available to visitors to “Microbial Fruits of Istanbul”

Orkan Telhan: Microbial Fruits of Istanbul

Beginning on April 2, and repeating each Friday afternoon this month, a robotic parrot in Istanbul’s Özgürlük Park has been giving a live performance, telling fables about microorganisms, immigration, gentrification, and climate change.

The parrot is just one part of Microbial Fruits of Istanbul, a collaboration between Associate Professor of Fine Arts Orkan Telhan and the architecture firm elii which explores the complex histories of Istanbul community gardens (bostans) from the perspective of microorganisms. The project is one of ten “New Civic Rituals” commissioned for the fifth Istanbul Design Biennial, which have been unveiled over the last several months throughout the city.

Visitors to the installation receive a microbial kit, which includes dried samples of two microbes collected from the soil of bostans, along with ingredients and a recipe to make microbial fruits. “This kit is designed to introduce you to some ancient residents of Istanbul, who have been quietly living underneath the soil for centuries,” reads the project’s accompanying brochure.

The two distinct microbes—Weissella paramesenteroides and Staphylococcus carnosus—were collected from historical bostans which date back over 1500 years. As perpetual locals of Istanbul each organism is thought to be common in the guts of residents of the communities who live around the gardens. “They come from families of organisms that are known to have health benefits, but also differ from them as they have evolved naturally in Istanbul and witnessed the many histories of the city,” Telhan writes in the brochure. The stories of these microbes are told by the parrot during its weekly performance.

Visitors are encouraged to add the microbial fruits to their own food as an ingredient. The brochure elaborates, “As you let them pass through your life, they will spread further, find new places to live and form new relationships with other humans, land and landscape.” Visitors are also invited to mix the samples into the soil of plants at home and give them new places to live outside bostans, which are increasingly threatened by rapid urbanization and gentrification.

The project continues Telhan’s thought-provoking explorations of the intersections between biology, technology, and the environment, which have recently focused on the role of microorganisms in shaping the future of the human diet.

In 2020, Ouroboros Steak, a grow-your-own steak kit cultivated from human cells and blood and named after the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail, which was developed by a team spearheaded by Telhan, sparked interest and controversy when it was on view in an exhibition at London’s Design Museum. The piece raises questions concerning consent: Isn’t eating a piece of yourself more ethical than killing an animal? Telhan elaborates on that subject in a recent interview at Biodesigned.

Telhan is also a co-founder of the startup Biorealize, housed at the Pennovation Center, which is focused on innovative means of biofabrication. Just this month, a novel bioreactor design invented by Biorealize was granted a patent by the U.S. Patent Office.

“Design is a very powerful tool to ask questions and shift perspectives. Both in Microbial Fruits of Istanbul and Ouroboros Steak, we try to challenge the human-centric view of design and ask what can we do if we prioritize other species’ needs over ours.”

Microbial Fruits of Istanbul was on view until the closing of the biennial on April 24.