By Jenna Romano
Design, science, technology — these are sectors whose developments influence the progress of important factors in our everyday lives — i.e. culture, geopolitics, the economy, the environment. As these fields develop, society is ineluctably bound to the changes that come along with them, and as individuals or a collective whole, we are expected to adapt to these transformations, or risk falling behind.
Despite the arguable necessity of adjusting to perennial movements of the modern world, there are challenges and quixotic resistance along the way. Conservatism poses concerns for the survival of human tradition and experience amidst the vortex of uncertainty that the future beholds. At what point (and how?) do developments in science, technology and the world of design modify themselves in order to answer our human desire to conserve.
This topic was the focus of this year’s annual Jerusalem Design Week 2018, titled Conserve — a week long event spanning twelve exhibitions and four locations in the city’s center. Under the scope of the world of design, over 150 Israeli and international artists reflected on this idea.
Design is an unambiguous field, always responding to questions of uncertainty and preservation, while confronting innovation and technology. In the words of co-head curator of design week, Tal Erez “design is reactive, it is a reflection of our culture and plays a fundamental role in how we go about our everyday lives”.
Choosing Jerusalem as a location for the biggest public design event in Israel made this topic even more relevant for visitors. It is a city with a clear, venerable background in terms of history and culture; where conservation is an inherent issue with myriad manifestations—conservatism plays a large role in the local dialogue. However the exhibitions at Jerusalem Design Week could also be seen as a petrel dish for issues that are becoming relevant globally today.
Three exhibitions in particular has a very strong impact on me, and I believe that their strong aesthetic presence and narratives stood out in connection to conservation on this local and global scale.
HaReady made, curated by Jerusalem local Noa Leah Cohen, which was satellite exhibition of Jerusalem Design week at The Jerusalem Theater, presented a look at one of the most conservative communities on the design fringe in Jerusalem – the Haredi (Jewish Orthodox) community. Cohen, who is not new to producing exhibitions that engage in the relationship between modern culture and the Haredi world (she curated “Popthadox” for the Jerusalem Biennale in 2017), “wanted to understand the phenomena of production and modification in the Haredi world. How much of it is dependent on conservation and how much of it is innovation?”
Playing with the idea of exhibiting hybrids of art and commodified objects (the ‘readymade’ as it is known in the art world) HaReady made uses a traditionally humorist approach to investigate the dialectic between the Haredi community and the modern world. The exhibition honed in on observations from artists and designers who come from within Haredi communities themselves in order to provide a less anthropological investigation, but an insider’s commentary.
The thirteen local artists dealt with critical issues that arise as the Haredi world reacts to modernization. One female artist who goes by the pseudonym Judith Levi 16 dealt with gender issues, in one work displaying an installation of a ‘domestic robe’ (ubiquitous in her community), which she then covered in recognizable slogans typically displayed on recognizable posters in Haredi neighborhoods, communicating the emphasis of a woman’s attire and domesticated identity. Another whimsical video work in this exhibition presented a series of satirical commercials advertising functional objects in the Orthodox world, imagining what it might look like to use contemporary marketing in the Haredi community (selling pudding whose logo is a child eating pudding, but deliberately replacing this with a child wearing a Kippa; or the marketing a stylish looking Shabbat getaway bag to replace the go-to plastic bag).
On Guard was another powerful exhibition, a group show curated by students of Bezalel’ Academy’s Industrial Design program. The 29 artists attempted to define the role of the conservation in culture and posed a specific question – does conservation exist incidentally or are we as a culture proactive? Each artist answered by displaying visual traditions that seem as if they might be reified only as a method of cultural survival, or in some cases as a flight response the threatening sovereignty of idea or traditions outside of our own. In the end of the exhibition, one wonders–who is ‘on guard’ duty of our traditions and narrative?
The Jerusalem Design Week’s main exhibition, The Human Conservation Project, co-curated by Tal Erez and Anat Safran presented a fascinating glimpse at attempts in technology and design to conserve human experience as we progress into the future of A.I. Exploring five distinct categories of human existence – Mind, Body, Us, Collective Mind, and Collective Body, the exhibition included pre-existing works by Israeli designers along with collaborations between Israeli and international designers commissioned for the project. The exhibition was a breathtaking glimpse into advancing technologies of design and the concept of transhumanism, as it begged visitors to think about what experiences might be lost in these technologies–affection, human recognition, taste, unity– and on the other hand, how can these advancements train us to understand our nature even better in order to be the best humans we can be?
“One of the foundations of design week is that it is a platform for research based experimental design products for people to explore the regions and boundaries of design under social roles” says Erez “we are always looking for those people who are interested in exploring those boundaries and making an impact”.
This year’s Jerusalem Design Week was bigger than ever, with over 22,000 visitors — but the greatest success, relates Erez, is that the team is learning how to manage this complex and important project, leading to a stronger narrative which Erez says this was a success that they could feel from the visitors.