Bold new designs from the Mideast

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Bold new designs from the Mideast

Underlying the darkness in Israel, there is hope. And it may be because of the strife in that country that the art pouring out of it is so vivid.
“There’s a fuel of energy because people want to feel their freedom every minute,” says Nirith Nelson, the art director for the Jerusalem Center for Visual Arts and the curator of “Domains ― Contemporary Israeli Design.”
“Domains,” at the Hangaram Art Museum in the Seoul Arts Center complex until Sept. 20, brings together 13 renowned Israeli industrial designers. The exhibition is touring the Asia-Pacific region through next year. Through lighting and shelves, staircases and vases, the message that “Domains” conveys is one of beauty, humor, practicality and faith.
Most of the designs are given an alcove of their own against a black wall in a darkened room. Track lighting sets a dramatic presentation. Tal Gur, who also helped design the exhibition space, has playful and sculptural lighting. His “Simple Gestures” series includes floor lamps with faces and ceiling fixtures shaped almost like the heads of pterodactyls, hanging upside down.
A video presentation shows Adi Marom’s solution to urban density. Her single-residence homes can be folded into a flat sheet. It may or may not be a practical solution, but there’s humor in the video of a floor popping up and closing like an origami card. If you’re planning a trip abroad, you can fold your apartment. When you return, you can literally watch your home unfurl.
Ron Gilad’s designs are minimalist. In “Shot Through Objects,” he took the simple form of a cylinder and fired a bullet through it. A flower fits through the hole left behind. The vase thus contains aggression and beauty in one form.
When Ami Drach and Dov Ganchrow collaborate, the result is always witty. In “Flexible Plywood Strips,” wood is contorted like a ribbon to hold up five aluminum shelves. Raviv Lifshitz gives new identities to assembly-line objects like umbrellas and chairs. Chanan de Lange’s works express the tension between an object and the space surrounding it. Hagai Harduff has created a prototype of a staircase that does not require support.
Currently, trade between Korea and Israel is concentrated in high-tech, agriculture and cars. But the Israeli ambassador, Uzi Manor, believes that “culture is everything.” At the “Domains” opening last Thursday, he said, “If you ask me about my dream, it is to open another exhibition, or another cultural event, every month.”
Several years ago, the magazine Wallpaper noted that a new design wind was blowing through the Middle East. The location of the state between the East and West only adds to the energy.
“There are no boundaries in Israel,” Nelson says. “In Italy, not many young designers succeed because there are masters. It’s a burden. In Israel, it’s not like that. People are always pushing the borders.”


Exciting times for Israeli design

These are exciting times for Nirith Nelson and her peers. As her once-scattered countrymen grow up in Israel, they are creating a fusion of cultures and a new language. That language is finding an international audience, especially through the works of artists such as Yaacov Kaufman and Tal Gur, and others not shown in the “Domains” exhibition ― Ron Arad, David Palterer and Ayala Serfaty.
Nelson and Gur are touring with “Domains,” which has already been to Tokyo and Beijing. After Korea, it goes to Taipai, Sydney, Melbourne and perhaps Bangkok. Nelson curates, while Gur helps design each setting.
The exchange of culture between Israel and Korea is not new, but an Israeli collaborative effort on this scale is. At the exhibition opening, she cuts a quick path in her black and white dress, designed by an Israeli woman who goes by the name Joseph ― “like in the Bible,” Nelson adds. The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with the artist about Israeli design.

What’s the state of Israeli design now?
There are three triggers behind Israeli design, three Ps: passion, pleasure and pain. A lot of the young people are furious about everything. People live in a very tense situation. There’s this belief that if you don’t live it now, maybe you won’t have a chance. If you have an idea, you have to do it.
Innovation is important. They want to forget also, and try to do something from start. But since there are a lot of production difficulties in Israel, artists use simple material, simple techniques, and stretch them.

How did “Domains” start?
I was invited to Japan for Tokyo Designer’s Block in October 2002. I wanted to show a wide scope of Israeli design. I chose from the very senior artists, to very young ones. From each age, I took the best. This is why I call it “Domains.” Each designer has his own way of creating an environment. You have a more intimate introduction to their works.

Is the reception different from country to country?
In Japan, everybody was photographing the works with their cellular phone. In China, people told us nobody would come, that design is not very developed there. But at the opening in Beijing, we had 36 journalists, two radio stations and three TV stations. One of them was Phoenix, which broadcasts to 300 million people. After that, you can’t say anything really about it. It was a total surprise.

How did you develop this space?
In Tokyo, everything is so small that we had to divide it into three spaces. In Beijing, we chose a space that has a huge hole in the middle. The artwork wrapped around the walls, like the Guggenheim in New York.
When the Korean gallery sent us the space plan here, we thought, It’s so huge! What are we going to do? We can’t change the exhibition. We couldn’t send more work. Well, we’ll change the design.

How long did it take to develop this site?
Two and a half days. The people here were in shock. They asked us to send a floor plan, but we said we can’t send the plan until we see the space. I have to know what the lighting is like, and the things I have to work with.
The exhibition looks fantastic. There are islands of light, and you have to walk about.
It feels a little bit like a fantasy. I like this feeling because if you get something from far away, it’s always a fantasy. I mean, you can’t bring the country. So it’s like a glimpse into another world.

by Joe Yong-hee
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