An Inside Look at Jerusalem Design Week

From stark, metal bookcases to bamboo benches - the grand event begins Sunday at sites across the capital.

When designer Tal Gur was asked to curate the "Time 02" exhibit opening Sunday at the beginning of Jerusalem Design Week on the site of the former Hansen leper hospital, his first instinct was to refuse. "The request came at very short notice," he says, "and my first reaction was to say, no chance, you're not serious. Then I thought that, on the other hand, it's a real challenge, although it was clear to me that I'd have to work feverishly. A second later, I asked, 'Why me?'" he adds with a smile. "What I had to do was to think about artists who also worked feverishly."

In comparison to an exhibit he curated last year, Gur turned to a relatively small number of designers: Adi Zaffran Weisler, Gad Charny, Noam Tabenkin, Asaf Weinbroom, Shira Keret, Ben Broyde, Koby Sibony, Dan Hochberg and Roy Vaspi Yanai, Gal Ben Arav, Yaniv Kadosh, Shlomi Azulay and Tal Mor. He invited them to create works within in a short time, in a fever, a kind of metaphor for frantic activity accompanied by an excess of feeling. "I looked for designers whose work was marked by a sort of 'fever,' or those able to come up with the goods within a short time. Each one of them is represented [in the exhibition] by a few works that relate to the unusual space in the basement of the building in Jerusalem that once served as a leprosy hospital."

Amos Bar Zeev

The phrase "feverish work," according to Gur, suits the activity of the designers in the exhibit. "I see fever as, for example, a great quality of laundry day, perceived in the past as a day of work that had to be done - a period when schedules were very functional, when things happened not because we felt like doing them but because of the tasks that had to be carried out."

And so you didn't know what the designers would exhibit?

Gur: "In some cases I didn't know and in others I thought I did. Ninety percent of the time I was surprised. For example, Adi Zaffran Weisler had in the past studied the encounter between natural and synthetic materials. It was clear to me that he would do something similar, but he did something completely different. He developed a design for a bookcase and the results are really interesting. Noam Tabenkin, too, whose final project was a furniture clinic - I thought she'd keep going along those lines but she substituted metalwork for the upholstery. It really surprised me. And I was sure Dan Hochberg and Roy Vaspi Yanai would continue working in felt, but they've turned to a completely new material and created new work.

"On the other hand, I also invited Gal Ben Arav, whose bamboo bench has received a lot of coverage - I wanted to challenge him. He lives in the Hula Valley, a source of fever, a descendant of immigrants who came to drain the swamps, and he involved himself in what grows on the banks of the lake. He is exhibiting a different approach to bamboo: He built a chair whose bamboo stalks penetrate the seat, which creates the feeling you are sitting among the plants."

This is the second year of the "Time 02" exhibition at the Hansen Hospital, joined this time by an additional show, "Connections, chief chairs, lamination and improvisations: Israeli observations of wood design in American, African and Japanese cultures." The works in this exhibit were carried out in conjunction with a course taught by the exhibition's curator, Kenny Segal, and Jonathan Ventura of the industrial design department of Hadassah College in Jerusalem. The course included surveys of woodworking techniques in Japan, Africa and the United States and involved the study of cultural, religious, technological, artistic and philosophical design aspects. The students were asked to produce an object drawing on one of the cultures, but integrating contemporary Israeli cultural outlooks. The intercultural connections, according to the curator, allowed the students to create interesting and new multicultural objects.

The decision to exhibit student work derived partly from a desire to represent the city's design schools during Jerusalem Design Week, says Boaz Bar Hillel, director of the Jerusalem Center of Design. "This year's Design Week is significantly larger in comparison to last year's," he says, "and includes more events and more exhibitions." Although the centerpiece is "Time 02," additional exhibits involve local schools, "in order to show that Jerusalem has a lot to offer from a design point of view," he adds.

A show of works from the ceramics and glass department of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, at the Yaffo 23 Gallery, chooses to "show off the rich range of work in a department nurtured by the encounter between tradition and innovation, and to call attention to the openness of tradition to innovation," says Eran Erlich, who curated the exhibition with Lena Dubinsky. "The department gave itself the goal of experimenting and challenging the ceramics and glass traditions in encounters both with the technological world of tomorrow, and the digital world, by maintaining sensitivities, work methods and ways of thinking from the glass and ceramic traditions," Erlich adds.

The exhibit, entitled "And the clay was their material," includes 60 pieces by 50 students and recent graduates of the department. "Human existence has many faces," Ehrlich says. "People have many possibilities to touch, feel, sense and understand the world, although the digital revolution gives most of its attention to a few particular dimensions of that existence. The force of the changes and the huge extent of the [digital] transformation gives us the feeling that we are at the beginning of an endless era - but those who look closely are likely to be convinced that this enormous range depends on merely a fraction of human ability.

"In order to develop and maintain additional horizons in understanding, we must go back and observe human traditions that predate the digital age, in order to use the potential they have for human development," Erlich says. "These traditions are not only traditions of working knowledge, but have at their core a different way of thinking and feeling that is not expressed in the digital world. An example of this may be found in the craft traditions of glass and ceramics, which offer another starting point to the digital one."

Artists and the financial crisis

In addition to these three exhibits, Jerusalem Design Week offers many intriguing activities. At the Yaffo 23 Gallery there will also be an exhibit called "Culture.Climate," based on a series of shows curated by Alphonse Hogg that deal with climate change as a cultural, political and social phenomenon.

An international design conference, organized by designer Jerszy Seymour, about how the global financial crisis is affecting artists, designers and architects will take place Thursday, December 8, at the Jerusalem Theater, on the assumption that, as the crisis broadens and the international financial situation deteriorates, current received wisdom about progress and design will no longer hold. Three of the four speakers will give a workshop on design through music the day before the conference, and 40 of those attending the workshop will be able to participate in group work with the designers on a musical piece to be presented in a concert at the end of the day.

The Jerusalem Cinematheque will host an evening on the subject of design, including appearances by designers Arad Sawat and Michal Wolf, who will share their experiences of the making of the Israeli film "Footnote," and will show clips of the film.

At Bezalel 7, the work of 20 designers will be exhibited to the public in the location where they create and sell their work in various disciplines, including ceramics, industrial design, jewelry making and fashion.

"It was important to us to have a significant event each day, and to increase the number of exhibitions for the broader public," Bar Hillel says. "After the great response to the exhibits at the Hansen center last year, we opened a second exhibition point at the Yaffo 23 Gallery. Our hope is to enlarge into an event that takes place citywide, in all of Jerusalem - a sort of design biennial. It is a natural process to grow from year to year and I believe that next year Design Week will be bigger than it is this year."