by Gaia Regoli
The Jerusalem Design Week is the most important event related to the design and technology in Israel. This year’s opening took place on June 13th. We have just assisted to the ninth version of this event which ended on June 20th.
In fact, it has been happening since 2011 and, since then, has been hosted by the Hansen House Center for Design, Media and Technology. In particular, the Hansen House, a former hospital for skin diseases, is located in one of the loveliest areas of Jerusalem, Talbiya, characterized by white elegant houses covered in thousands of colourful blossoms, especially in this time of the year.
Each year, the Design Week focuses on one single theme. This year, the chosen word, based on which the whole exhibition was developed, was East. What do we mean by East? Everybody has a different perception of it, not only geographical but emotional as well. However, we may all agree that, for most of the people, the East is seen as something different, as some sort of unknown creature that, sometimes, can be even scary. Hence, the aim of this year’s Design Week was to rethink all the preconceptions we have about the East and to face each one of these points of view, to show that all these adjectives are neither real nor natural.
Besides, two hundred designers, mainly Israeli but also international, participated to this unique event. What is impressive is that, as said by the chief curator Tal Erez, 80% of the works were made on purpose for this week. In addition to this, it was also decided to deal with architecture, as a way of discovering the ancient building. For example, new pathways through the building were created and people could walk on the roof of the Hansen House, enjoying the natural and artistic view. Sixteen exhibitions inside the building were presented to the visitors together with workshops and activities in other venues of the city, such as at the Museum of Islamic Art.
Together with other members of the Jerusalem Foundation, such as Ruth Diskin – Director of the Projects Department, I was guided through the Hansen House by Tal Erez – Chief Curator, and Anat Safran – Artistic Director, and I managed to see, among the sixteen exhibitions, its main peaks.
(For a detailed description of all the exhibitions check the main website: https://www.jdw.co.il/en/)
Our first stop was on the rooftop, at the exhibition Camels in the Air, based around the symbol of the “Flying Camel”, which represents nowadays modern and technological world. Afterwards, we were introduced to Orientation, once again on the rooftop. This exhibition looked at the East from a geographical point of view, which explains why the whole room was filled with any sort of map from ancient times until now. These maps reflected on the relativity of the concept of “east”, with the underpinning idea that all maps are wrong. Moving on, on the second floor we found one of the most interesting projects of the Jerusalem Design Week: The Matchmaker. This project, already initiated in 2017, brought together young designers from East Jerusalem who possess impressive skills. This represented the opportunity for craftsmen to meet and to show their unique talents. For example, Shady Francis Majlaton collaborated with Aref Sayed to create bags inspired by musical instruments which recall assorted nuts, typically found in Arabic houses. The message is related to the fact that Arabs take these nuts from trees which then turn into instruments. Consequently, these instrumental-nuts shaped bags play with the idea of Arabs “eating culture”.
Furthermore, we were introduced to The Common Thread project, located also on the second floor. What was that about? Firstly, the faces of the employees at the Hansen House were photographed and the distance between their homes in East Jerusalem and the Hansen House were calculated. Afterwards, thanks to an algorithm, a machine drew the employees’ faces on wooden canvases by using one single thread which is as long as the distance between their homes and the place of work. The perfect meeting between technology and handicraft, between the human mind and the machine. Last but not least, the first floor presented the main exhibition Across the East, developed in several rooms and focused on the idea of looking at how East and West influence each other. Additionally, the Hansen House dedicated five rooms to art academies and their young designers.
The Design Week is another proof that Jerusalem is a city in expansion with a strong interest in the artistic and cultural scene. If, for any reason, you did not manage to attend it this year, you should definitely go next year! Highly recommended!