From Crafts to Design

From Crafts to Design

Endangered crafts meet famous artists and designers

The first project of the Istanbul Modern Platform for Crafts, Art and Design combines imagination with manual skills. Products designed using copper, wood, glass, bone, and nacre are featured now at the Istanbul Modern Store for art lovers to enjoy

The first project of the Istanbul Modern Platform for Crafts, Art and Design is completed. Bringing together Istanbul’s fading crafts with art and contemporary design, the project was carried out within the scope of the Istanbul Development Agency 2015 Developing Creative Industry Financial Support Program.

Leading the way in the development of creative industries in Turkey, Istanbul Modern has united the city’s long-established but fading craft traditions with new interpretations in contemporary design and art. In this first project of the Istanbul Modern Platform for Crafts, Art and Design, traditional production techniques using copper, wood, glass, bone, and nacre were reinterpreted and transformed into design objects. Five artists/designers and four artisans took part. Designs created by Atilla Kuzu for copper, Hatice Gökçe for bone, Adnan Serbest for wood, Ekrem Yalçındağ for nacre, and Seyhun Topuz for glass came to life as products crafted by the hands of artisans Fatma Ayran, Sezgin Yalçın, Gamze Araz Eskinazi, and Battal Yakut (Master Beto).

Initiated on September 1, 2015, the project provided artists, designers, and craftspeople with the opportunity to draw on one another’s knowledge and experience while collaborating and creating works together. The resulting products will be featured in the Istanbul Modern Store until the end of the year.

Forging a link between past and present

The director of Istanbul Modern, Levent Çalıkoğlu, noted that the project draws attention to the relationship between craft-based production and design, and forges a link between past and present: “We aimed to build a platform for fostering ideas and collaborations by uniting traditional crafts with contemporary art and design. There seems little hope of revitalizing the potential of the country’s traditions and we are witnessing the demise of the master-journeyman-apprentice relationship, which once enabled the exchange of knowhow and experience. Workshops that sustained handcraft production are downsizing or closing altogether, and the handful that remain only survive because their owners work with perseverance and devotion to their trade. We are fully aware that traditional techniques and practices may soon die off. In the first project launched by the platform, four master craftspeople working with five different materials collaborated with five designers/artists.”

Uncovering the value of craftsmanship

Emphasizing that design’s ideal is to create value, consultant to the Istanbul Modern Store Erdem Akan says: “The designer’s role is to perceive and support blossoming value, and to strive toward sustaining value that is endangered. Between technical guidelines, competition, budgets, and daily concerns, it is all too easy for designers to lose sight of these ideals. To this end, the project offers a strong opportunity to pause, remember, and uncover the intrinsic value of craftsmanship.”

Nature’s design, the brain’s design, and the hand’s labor

Adnan Serbest, whose understanding of design is built on simplicity and backed by craft, collaborated on this project with wood carver Sezgin Yalçın. Describing the process of designing a bowl made of ash wood, which they called “Fraxinus,” Serbest says: “My design principle is to adopt a modern style. This object, however, tends more toward the primitive and natural side. It was partly the properties of the wood that we used. We combined nature’s design with the brain’s design and the hand’s labor.” As a child, woodcarver Yalçın spent two years as an apprentice, just sanding. Stating that he sees his profession as a form of rehabilitation, Yalçın said that the material guided him in the process: “We used beech for our first sample. With the second one we used solid ash. Finally we laminated three pieces of ash together to come up with another prototype because we were looking for a special grain effect.”

From oysters to cufflinks

Collaborating with a craftsperson for the first time, painter Ekrem Yalçındağ agrees with the iconic contemporary artist Jeff Koons, who says that “quality in draftsmanship instills trust in the viewer.” For this project, Yalçındağ worked with nacre craftsperson Fatma Ayran. With the aim of designing objects that have both functional and artistic value, together they produced cufflinks made of nacre, also known as mother of pearl, sourced from the interior of mollusk shells. Yalçındağ says: “Ever since I’ve done artistic work, I’ve aimed to create a language and communicate through it. Themes are an alphabet for me. When translating this alphabet onto a new surface, we tried to use a traditional material in a nontraditional usage scenario.” The only female nacre craftsperson in Turkey, Fatma Ayran notes that in this project, nacre served as a color.

Copper tray designed by Atilla Kuzu and handcrafted by Master Beto

Designer Atilla Kuzu worked with inlayer Battal Yakut (Master Beto). Stating that he tried to take Master Beto’s handwork and candid attitude and offer it to the consumer in a modern envelope, Atilla Kuzu adds: “In the end we created an object that we were both well satisfied with. We merged traditionally crafted copper with the technological conveniences of our day.” Noting that the tray called “Cu-z” was produced using a trial-and-error method, Master Beto says, “When you’re crafting a material it speaks to you, it tells you its boundaries. I made the circular bowls on the tray by striking them on the anvil. This is the step that provides the product with a flourish.”

Softened by bone

Fashion designer Hatice Gökçe collaborated with craftsperson Fatma Ayran, who, in addition to nacre, also works with bone and horn. Gökçe combined her design interests with the properties of the materials, and designed a shaving brush she called “Blackcrow.” Stating that bone is a very difficult material, Gökçe says: “I think there is a reason I found myself working with bone. I received some clues that I should perhaps soften my designs a bit. In this sense, working with bone was like holding up a mirror to my design approach. I think exploring new materials and figuring out ways of working with them enriches my design approach.” Expressing how she enjoyed working with bone, Fatma Ayran adds: “When you do the same work all the time, you’re free to work the material as you please, but the patterns you use become repetitive. A designer’s approach and discipline is quite different.”

Mastering glass

Seyhun Topuz designed glass napkin rings together with Gamze Araz Eskinazi, cofounder of Camekan, and combined art and craft to produce functional objects. Noting that she wanted everyone around a crowded dinner table to have their own special napkin ring, Topuz combined the circular form with the properties of glass, and produced rings that are each in a different color on white. In her work, Topuz wants to be able to master the industrial materials she uses, such as aluminum, iron, and fiberglass. In this project, together with Eskinazi, she created her design by using manual labor and imagination to shape glass, which is an unruly substance.

Experiences conveyed in a panel

The designers/artists and craftspeople who came together for the project “From Crafts to Design” shared their experience and process, which took close to six months, in a panel moderated by Erdem Akan on May 4, 2016.

Digital publication

A digital publication in Turkish and English titled “From Crafts to Design” describes the design and production processes in the project. It also serves as an archive and will be available online for viewing and download. This digital publication features texts focusing on the relationship between crafts-based production and design, general information about the materials used, conversations with the artists and designers on their experiences, and interviews and videos featuring the craftspeople.

Workshops with universities

Workshops were held as part of the project, aiming to bring the artists, designers, and craftspeople together with university students. The participants shared their processes with students of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Department of Ceramics and Glass Design, Bilgi University Department of Industrial Design, and Bahçeşehir University Communication Design Department. In the workshops, the students experimented with the materials used in the project and experienced the production process.

Workshops for children and youths

The aim of the workshops for children and youths, designed by the Istanbul Modern Education and Social Projects Department, is to acquaint participants with the materials used in the project and develop their creativity. The workshops will be held during the month of May and include a copper sculpture workshop, a motif workshop, and a light workshop.

The content of this publication prepared within the scope of the Istanbul Modern Platform for Crafts, Art and Design, a project supported by the Istanbul Development Agency, does not reflect the views of the Istanbul Development Agency and/or of the Turkish Ministry of Development; the content of this project is the sole responsibility of the Istanbul Foundation for Modern Art.