Ambiguous Standards Institute
‘The phone-voice promises, "Your call will be monitored for quality assurance purposes. Credit cards, all 0.76mm thin, slide into slots and readers all around the world. Screw threads conform to a given pitch. Every make of car shares the same dashboard pictograms. Batteries with consistent durations are sized to fit any device. Books, magazines, music, and audiovisual works are indexed with ISBN numbers. Paper sizes and the machines that handle them are standardized. RFID tags, transshipment containers, trucks, car seats, film speeds, protective clothing, book bindings, units of measure, personal identification numbers (PINs), and fasteners of all kinds conform to global standards’ (Easterling, 2014).
Ambiguous Standards Institute is an establishment of research and education tracing the roots of ambiguous standards in various domains of everyday life, authenticating, archiving and registering uncharted standards to their greatest extent possible.
It aims for the accumulation information and the local, national and global dissemination of thereof. The institute pursues a delicate investigation of textual and visual representations of various exo-standard measurements and takes them into the record: Some of these standards refer to physico-social, and some to physico-mathematical practices. Some are ambiguous by nature, some are absolute by self-proclamation, meaning that they are defined by the social and cultural environment they are situated in. Some are frequently used, and some are long out of circulation. Compilation of information is disseminated through various channels of mass media.
The main purpose of this institute is not to absolutize ambiguities. Benefitting from the previous institutional and intellectual accumulation of knowledge by social institutions of research, the institute rather aims to portray a conversion table in various formats. Through the acquisition of everyday objects, institute collects and archives the fragments from our material culture and registers them according to their discursive potentials of setting/validating the ambiguous standards.
The cryptic, fluid and fragmented structure of everyday life requires certain ambiguous descriptions, instructions and standards. Definitions of ambiguous standards are made using ingredients, spatial data, anatomic references, thus ‘loaded’ categories. Given standards enounce proximity not certainty related to the dimensions of the notions they signify. Most of them are qualitative instead of quantitative, thus difficult to investigate solely through physico-mathematical methods and analysis. Ambiguous Standards Institute traces the roots of ambiguous standards in a given context. It aims for the accumulation information and the local, national and global dissemination of thereof. The institute pursues a delicate investigation of textual, visual and representations of various exo-standard measurements and takes them into the record: Some of these standards refer to physico-social, and some to physico-mathematical practices. Some are ambiguous by nature, some are absolute by self-proclamation, meaning that they are defined by the social and cultural environment they are situated in. Some are frequently used, and some are long out of circulation. Compilation of information will be distributed the mission through various channels of mass media.
One of the main inspirations was The Law of the Municipality of Bursa, issued in 1502 under the request of Sultan II. Bayezid Han of the Ottoman Empire. This might be considered as the first conversation table, codex of its time. This was an attempt to reconcile the social and mathematical ends of measurement and exchange. Thus, one of the main aims of the ASI is to establish the missing connection between the physico-social standards and measurements of the ‘old’ world with the physico-mathematical ones of the ‘new’ one in the 21th century.
‘… design should pay renewed attention to human values like poetry, knowledge, culture, but also to our basic needs in relation to contemporary challenges, like housing, mobility, clothes, food and water. Design can bring about new visions and alternative solutions for our everyday life, simultaneously allowing crossover collaborations for the production of knowledge that can be shared. From this perspective, the designer is no longer an all-powerful creator, but a part of a network or community of society and form. In other words: not the world of design, but the design of the world should be at stake, an enterprise that starts at the core of everyday life’ (Boelen, 2014:15).
The Institute authenticates, archives and registers the ambiguities; however, adopting a role as an educational platform, it equally places an emphasis on the recruitment and placement processes of new institutians, thus it aims to register uncharted standards to their greatest extent possible. The main purpose of this institute is not to absolutize ambiguities. Benefitting from the previous institutional and intellectual accumulation of knowledge by social institutions of research, the institute aims to portray a conversion table in written and illustrated formats. Through the acquisition of everyday objects, institute collects and archives the fragments from our material culture and registers them according to their discursive potentials of setting/validating the ambiguous standards.
This institute traces ambiguous standards implicit in everyday life through measurements, social etudes, data visualisations, static and dynamic imaging techniques and design research. It collects data, analyses it, produces information, documentation and physical manifestations from within. It compiles the outcomes and shares them with society similar to national or supranational institutions for standards and quality. At certain times, there might be reasoning and justifications on secondary or tertiary levels. But institutians do what they do with utmost seriousness. The ways and methods with which the research and development will be conducted, could diverge from their hard-scientific counterparts, for the research about ambiguous concepts requires obscure and sophisticated practices.
Dissemination of information has utmost importance for our institution. We are inclined to use all the possibilities of mass-communication and we see radio and television -terrestrial broadcasting- as two of the often-ignored, underestimated mediums of our age. In order to facilitate the radio’s power of coverage and accessibility, we have prepared short, transmission sound bites to be aired in radio stations and video sequences to be aired in state television as public service announcements. We have prepared proposals to be used in the mass communication strategies of the institution.
In the second half of the 20th century, Deutscher Werkbund sought ways to promote ‘good design’ and educate the society about it. Although the necessity was undoubtful, how this should be done was not clear. First strategy is to open exhibitions. People who would come to exhibitions will be educated about good design and its objects. However, exhibitions have limited impact with their confined duration and capacity of visitors. Therefore, as a second strategy, counsel centres are opened in urban areas. These centres reached the target groups longer and in greater duration. Here, visitors could acquire more information about Werkbund and its design philosophy.
As an ultimate strategy, the Werkbund designed thematic crates and sent them to schools all around Germany. The aim was to promote good design directly to the future users. This way the volume of recipients increased for a longer period of time.
Ambiguous Standards Institute takes this strategy of Deutscher Werkbund as its main agents of information dissemination. Research outcomes about a definite theme are composed in crates. Each crate serves as a tangible platform for critic and discussion. The crates are adapted to contemporary packaging and transportation practices, using one of the most ubiquitous yet ambiguous standards, cabin size luggage measures, which differs in almost every airline. The crates are ambiguous just and as much as their contents, thus provide a conceptual integrity. mobility for the issues investigated in the institute.
Last but not least the crates enable the institutians to carry-on the research and debate in the institute on local, national and global scales.
Figure 1. Shift Log.
Ambiguous Standards of Experience: Duration
The diverse collection of objects and animated LED screen demonstrate that time can be measured and fragmented with precision and exactitude or be manifested through relational perception and cultural connotations. The ambiguous fragments of time, that cannot be physically encapsulated, are represented on the LED screen and include the blink of an eye and the üç vakit phrase used in fortune telling, which can correspond to hours, days, weeks or months.
Figure2. Ambiguous Standards of Experience: Duration.
Ambiguous Standards of Over-Specification: Kitchen
Since the mid-20th century, there has been a considerable increase in objects designed with over-specific functions, especially in the kitchen. Apparatus can be found for the removal of the head and strings in string beans, peeling the tops of okra fingers, slicing eggs and more. These are all easily achievable with a simple kitchen knife that, unlike over-specific gadgets, does not discriminate if the fruit or vegetable does not fit to an industrially imposed size or shape.
Figure3. Ambiguous Standards of Over-Specification: Kitchen
Ambiguous Standards of Tune: Airs & Orders
Known as a hava in Turkish, an air is the fundamental infrastructure, the tune of a folk song. Airs are defined by their different beats, moods, locality, purpose and representation, and are used across a variety of songs. Here you can listen to the abstraction of 13 airs from Anatolia and compare them with their complementary compositions. Push the buttons to explore how similar and different the same air can be used.
Figure4. Ambiguous Standards of Tune: Airs & Orders.
Ambiguous Standards of Serving: Tea Glasses
Food packaging almost always recommends a serving size, but what is the serving size of a drink that has been shared without packaging for centuries? For çay in Turkey, it is the narrow-waist-wide-brim tea glass, but not all are created equal either. This spectrum of tea glasses of various sizes and shapes highlights that the serving measure is as fluid as the contents. In the centre is Incebelli, designed by Koray Özgen to be an average of around 40 tea glasses produced by Pasabahçe.
Figure 5. Ambiguous Standards of Serving: Tea Glasses.
Ambiguous Standards of Unicodification: Hands
Hand gestures have always had a specific meaning according to geography, culture and context, but with emojis we are sharing hand signals far across time and space. The introduction of over-generalised skin colours to emoji further complicates cultural transferability. A set of hand gestures used commonly in Turkey are demonstrated in a video, alongside a set of 3D-printed emoji hands, and a spectrum of skin foundation. Can what we communicate through our hands be quantified in a standard?
Figure 6. Ambiguous Standards of Unicodification: Hands.
Boelen, J., 2014. ‘Testing the Everyday’ in Designing Everyday Life, eds. Jan Boelen and Vera Sacchetti, pp 12-17, Park Books: Switzerland.
Easterling, K., 2014. ‘Quality’ in Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, pp. 220-273, Verso: UK.
ISO, 2017. International Organization for Standardization, https://www.iso.org/about-us.html
TSE, 2017. About Us: The Establishment of TSE, Accesed in 02.12.2017
Artwork, Design, Research, Documentation References
Andreas Møl Dalsgaard, The Human Scale, 2012, Denmark.
Bent Hamer, 1001 Grams, 2014, Germany, Norway.
Kitchen Stories, 2003, Norway, Sweden.
Dunne & Raby, United Micro Kingdoms, 2012-3, UK.
The School of Constructed Realities, 2014, UK.
Faye Toogood, Fictious Fruits, The Drawing Room, 2015, UK.
Hiroko Shiratori, Unusual Objects from Japan 1868-1945, 2006, London, UK.
Kon Wajiro, Archeology of Present Times, 1920s, Tokyo, Japan.
Maarten Baas, Maarten Baas Takes Time, 2017, DDW, Eindhoven, Netherlands.
Parsons and Charlesworth, New Survivalism, 2014,
Golden Section Finder, Chicago, USA.
Peter Greenaway, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, 2003-4, UK.
Obedience Exhibition w. Saskia Boddeke, 2015, Berlin, Germany.
Vertical Features Remake, 1978, UK.
Taizo Yamamoto, Taxonomy of The Ordinary, 2005-8, Vancouver, Canada.
Anatolian Weights and Measures Collection, Pera Museum, İstanbul, Turkey.
Architectural Detective Agency (ADA), 1974, Terunubu Fujimori and Takeyoshi Hori, Tokyo, Japan.
Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM), 1875, Saint-Cloud, Paris, France.
Central Office of Information (UK), 1935-2012.
Dharma Initiative (fictional), Orientation Videos, date n/a.
Global Tools, 1973-5, Italy.
Institute for the Future, 1968, Palo Alto, USA.
La Norme Idéale, 2017, Brussels, Belgium.
Mass Observation, 1937, Sussex, UK.
Monty Pyhton, Ministry of Silly Walks, 1970s.
Roadway Obeservation Society (ROJO), 1986, Terunubu Fujimori, Shinbo Minami, Tetsuo Matsuda and Joji Hayashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), 1826, London, UK.
The Penny Cyclopedia, 1833-46, London, UK.
z33 Research, Hasselt, Belgium.
 The order of the Sultan: ‘Gather the profession experts and expert witnesses in Bursa, prepare a detailed notebook for fixed prices (narh. Noun, Ot.) applied to various textile, clothes and other items, bought, sold and processed in every profession as well as their changes in time. What type of fixed prices were applied after my accession to the throne? Were they applied as they were since then, or were they changed? If they were, what were the reasons? How is the recent implementation? Let it be examined exhaustively and leave nothing unknown. Write down in detail and send it as soon as possible. This notebook you prepare will be the legal code which will be referred to when necessary, thus no type of fixed price should be unexplained’(TSE, 2017).
 A term coined by us to implicate the communcal but non-hierachical structure of the institute.
 ‘The ISO story began in 1946 when delegates from 25 countries met at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London and decided to create a new international organization ‘to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards. On 23 February 1947 the new organization, ISO, officially began operations. ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 162 national standards bodies.
Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.
International Standards make things work. They give world-class specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. They are instrumental in facilitating international trade.
ISO has published 21962 International Standards and related documents, covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare. ISO International Standards impact everyone, everywhere’ (ISO, 2017).
 As part of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, curated by Jan Boelen, we were commissioned to design and manufacture various crates of ambiguous standards.
 Over specific objects: Objects designed and produced for fulfilling extremely specified functions, instead of more abstract ones such as holding, pulling, hitting, cutting.
 MAARTEN BAAS MAKES TIME includes works by: Anthon Beeke, Anton Corbijn, Atelier NL, Atelier van Asseldonk, Atelier van Lieshout, Cor Unum, Erwin Olaf, Geert Sweep, Gijs van Bon, Ingmar Heytze, Iris van Herpen, Jeroen Kooijmans, Jeroen Wolf, John Körmeling, Joris van Midde, Julien Carretero, Kiki van Eijk, Lambert Kamps, Lensvelt, Lisa Klappe, Mieke Meijer, Nel Verbeke (Dutch Invertuals), Nick Ramage (Laikingland), Niels Hoebers, Ontwerpbureau Nightshop, Piet Hein Eek, rENs, Richard Hutten, Rob Scholte, Sander Mulder, Sergio Herman, Studio Makkink & Bey, Tessa Koot, Tejo Remy, Teun Hocks, Theo Jansen, Vlisco, Ward Wijnant.
 The collection consists of objects dating from prehistory to those used in present day Anatolia. These comprise the main types of scales and measuring instruments, used for measuring weight, length, and volume in every field, from land measurement to commerce, architecture to jewelry making, shipping to pharmacy.