School of Marvels and Catastrophes

Frances Hsu, Peter Lang, Nicholas Boyarsky, Lorenzo Romito, Giulia Fiocca, Robert Brecevic Robert Brecevic, Dougald Hine, Ana Dzokic, Andreas Killen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperScientificpeer-review


The foundation myths of the ancient world often begin in large scale calamities: the Aztecs, for example, believed the world was destroyed four times, and that the present world will be devastated by earthquakes. If for in Hellenic myth Atlantis ended submerged under the seas, the destruction of the Roman city of Pompeii was instead eminently factual, captured by history’s first eye-witness accounts. Emanuel Kant, through his early studies of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake rejected supernatural or eschatological visions on nature arguing instead for explanations based on scientific causality. Walter Benjamin understood the vulnerability of the city and the macabre human fascination with urban destruction.

Catastrophes have led to the forecasting of risk, the invention of earth sciences, and at times the suspension of the rule of law. But we are no more capable of mitigating future disasters or closer to understanding the effects of cataclysms on our lives then when the Vesuvius blanketed Pompeii. And we are no less awed by the sublimity of these terrific spectacles then was Pliny the Elder when he fearlessly succumbed to the eruptions of the Vesuvius.

Within this context, Puerto Rico reminds of us of Atlantis, Japan or Mexico are our contemporary Pompeiis, and the ferocious winds, sweeping fires and devastating droughts recall the Armageddons of a future past. The
School of Marvels and Catastrophes will move through historic and contemporary landscapes, reflect on societies past and engage with the peoples who are or will be most affected by the forces of nature, and climatic reversals that characterize this era of the Anthropocene. The School will establish a set of international workshops, in significant locations around the Mediterranean, and present and discuss, the collection and production of projects, documents and stories in Istanbul engaging with the public of the Design Biennale.
School of Marvels and Catastrophes (SoMAC) will bring experts in the sciences, architects, designers and multi-media artists together to consider the preponderant forces of nature in the age of the Anthropocene. Along with a group of students from the Royal Institute of Art Stockholm, Oxford Brookes, Aalto University and the Istanbul Teknik University (pending request). The SoMAC working group will journey to Istanbul stopping in Naples and the excavations at Pompeii, visiting the Cratteri of Alberto Burri in Gibellina Sicily, and Mount Etna in Catania Sicily. The SoMAC will map and document the geography, as well as develop performative projects to be enacted among local participants. Particular attention will be paid to how the history of these regions has been historically portrayed and in contemporary culture, through the analysis of artefacts, souvenirs, films and other forms of display. Furthermore, when possible local and international cultural institutions will be invited to participate in events to be run within the sites and elsewhere in the neighbourhoods and local public centers. As the School accumulates experiences and stories, diagrams, documentation and practices it will bring these to Istanbul for presentations and for further development.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventIstanbul Design Biennial: Disasters and Earthquakes - İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts , Istanbul, Turkey
Duration: 22 Sep 20184 Nov 2018
Conference number: 4


ConferenceIstanbul Design Biennial
Internet address


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