Orkan Telhan’s ‘Microbial Fruits of Istanbul’

Last month, a robotic parrot in Istanbul’s Özgürlük Park gave a weekly live performance telling fables about microorganisms, immigration, gentrification, and climate change.

Colorful design structure made of wood and colored glass panels in the middle of  Özgürlük Park in Istanbul..
Microbial Fruits of Istanbul on view in Özgürlük Park as part of the Istanbul Design Biennial. (Image: Courtesy of Weitzman News)

The parrot was just one part of “Microbial Fruits of Istanbul,” a collaboration between Orkan Telhan, associate professor of fine arts, 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.

Read more at Weitzman News.