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The Wish Machine by Autoban, Turkey’s contribution to the 1st London Design Biennale

Set to take place from 7 to 27 September 2016, the inaugural London Design Biennale will feature projects from over thirty countries, which were called to respond to the theme of ‘Utopia by Design,’ celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Sir Thomas More’s classic, Utopia (1516). Coordinated by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, Turkey’s contribution to the biennale presents ‘The Wish Machine,’ a project undertaken by the Istanbul-based multidisciplinary design studio, Autoban.

The Wish Machine

The installation takes direct inspiration from the ‘wish-tree’, a cultural tradition deeply rooted in the ancient Anatolian faith and found in ancient Greek, Kabala and Persian believes. Its origins can be tracked back to the Neolithic. It operates on a simple mechanism that involves affixing a note or a memento to a branch of a tree as an act of hope born out of hopelessness.

In this act, the tree becomes a place of last resort for one’s hopes and wishes, which are pinned on universal powers, in the hope that they can change the supplicant’s fate. ‘The Wish Machine’ takes this multi-cultural tradition as the key insight into how design and utopia can cooperate.

The installation located in West Wing G1A at Somerset House appears as an interactive pneumatic system operating in a mirrored space. Visitors will be invited to walk through a tunnel that is made of transparent hexagonal tubes. They will share their hopes and wishes, vision of utopias, and aspiration for the future, by writing them on paper, and feeding them to the Wish Machine through a lid at the dead end. Notes will then travel back through the tubes to a place out of visitors’ sight, as if their destination is a place unknown. Just like throwing coins to the depths of a lake or lighting a candle to make a wish come true, the final destination being addressed will remain a mystery.

Thomas More could have not imagined how his bequest utopia changed tremendously within time. Global warming, growing violence, war and terror are threatening the human future and causing displacement and migration. In these dark moments, utopias become more evident and important.

Today, looking at the maps of migration, one can see the emergence of a new kind of wish-tree around Europe. Not in the form of tying small notes to a tree, but manifested in the migration of populations searching for a utopian country as they flee war. It can be seen as an extreme utopic gesture, where the ‘Utopia’ is developed and designed on the scale of an individual, sending their hopes wishing to reach into the unknown.

In forming ‘The Wish Machine,’ Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çağlar, the founders of Autoban, were motivated by the utopian idea of detaching from all known parameters belonging to the past and the present to dream for a better future. This positively provocative approach to suggest solutions for humanity and the act of dreaming was their biggest inspiration, reflected in their own field of design. The biggest problem they identified in today’s world is the inability to express an idea or a dream about a more positive future, without constantly having to struggle with the chaos of the present.
Having realised that preceding systems that were designed to create a ‘perfect’ order from chaos and diversity have eventually failed, the designers embraced the endless journey both as a method and form. Utopia was an inspirational resource for the idea of ‘being triggered for searching.’ Throughout their journey, Utopia was a reference point that inspired them to create constructive thinking and keep the essence of hope.

Autoban has worked in an interdisciplinary and collective setting with different expertise, to make a real, interactive, and perfectly working mechanical system, custom designed for the biennale space. In their design approach for the London Design Biennale, the company has looked into possibilities to express familiar traditions in new representations, and to build a century-long, well-known system with a surprising new form and function.

The visual identity of the Turkey Exhibition in London Design Biennale is designed by Umut Südüak.

About Autoban

Founded by Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çağlar in 2003, Autoban is an Istabul-based multi-disciplinary studio working across architecture and interiors, product and experiential design, with a portfolio that demonstrates their unique design approach on both local and international scale.

Forging a reputation for thoughtfulness, experimentation and craftsmanship, the studio explores the potential of ordinary materials by using them in an unorthodox and artful way, which simultaneously pushes the boundaries with the opportunities of craftsmanship and modern technology. Their contemporary methods of making design an innate part of the space have not only redefined Istanbul’s cityscape, but also results in a portfolio that includes numerous projects in London, Madrid, Hong Kong, Moscow, China and Azerbaijan. Their product designs are showcased at major design exhibitions or appear as installations at art events worldwide such as LDF, ICFF, Salon Del Mobile, and Design Biennale Interieur Kortrijk.

About the London Design Biennale

The inaugural London Design Biennale will be held at Somerset House from 7 to 27 September 2016, bringing design installations and exhibitions from over thirty countries from the world’s nations to the heart of the capital. The Biennale presents an extraordinary opportunity for countries and representative cities to create design statements that address the 2016 theme, ‘Utopia by Design’. It will provide a prestigious, global stage for the world’s leading contemporary design and design-led innovation, creativity and research.

The presentations will occupy the entirety of Somerset House, including the famous Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court. Situated on the banks of the River Thames in the heart of London, the former royal palace is a world famous cultural centre and is one of London’s most visited attractions with more than 3.2 million visitors in 2015. The Biennale will run in partnership with Somerset House and is supported by the Mayor of London. An International Advisory Committee and Jury composed of leading figures from design has been appointed and will award medals to the Biennale’s most significant national contributions.