Conserve, preserve are apt themes for Jerusalem Design Week in ex-leper colony

More than 100 artists and designers from Israel and abroad participate in a dazzling array of exhibits

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

A prosthetic limb as a vine, from The Alternative Limb Project, exhibited at Jerusalem Design Week 2018. (Courtesy, The Alternative Limb Project)
A prosthetic limb as a vine, from The Alternative Limb Project, exhibited at Jerusalem Design Week 2018. (Courtesy, The Alternative Limb Project)

It is the seventh year of Jerusalem’s Design Week, and that stability has been evident in the breadth and scope of this year’s designs and works created by more than 100 Israeli and international artists and designers.

Called “Conserve,” or “HaShmura,” a Hebrew term usually used for nature reserves or a reservoir, the week-long event, ending Thursday, has been taking place primarily at the Hansen House and the Bezeq Building, and including several other locations as well: the Jerusalem Theater, the Islamic Art Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, and Beit Alliance.

Design Week mimics similar exhibitions and efforts held in other countries, but is wholly a product of Jerusalem, funded by The Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the Jerusalem Development Authority, initiated by Hansen House and managed by Ran Wolf Urban Planning and Project Management.

It is also the central, annual event for Hansen House, the historic leper hospital that was turned into a center for design in 2011 by the city of Jerusalem. What began as a small, relatively minor design exhibition was expanded three years ago into a more international event that examines situations unique to Jerusalem and Israel, yet relevant to the international community and global issues.

This year’s week-long show has focused on conservation and sustainability, a concentration that weaves its way throughout the restored gardens, rooms, and courtyards of the former Jerusalem leper colony that is itself a symbol of conservation and restoration.

The modern take on street signs and posters as part of ‘Pro Jerusalem – 100 Years of Conservation’ at Design Week Jerusalem 2018 (Courtesy Dor Kedmi)

The Hansen House exhibition opens with “Pro Jerusalem,” a telling look at 100 years of conservation, hearkening back to Ronald Storrs, the first British governor of Jerusalem who founded the Pro-Jerusalem society, charged with creating and promoting the city’s image, a concept that had not previously existed in pre-state Palestine.

There are artifacts from that period, including sewer covers, pieces of Jerusalem stone and Armenian ceramics, part of Storrs’ efforts to import artisans to the holy land, and create a unique look for the holy city.

The exhibit moves on to the works of six young designers who reflect on the city’s next 100 years, with street lighting made from Jerusalem stone, signage in English, Hebrew, Arabic and French — the latest language to join Jerusalem — cleverly pointing to the current issues of religion, politics and society, several more current manhole covers and ceramics for this day and age.

Another popular exhibit at Hansen House is “The Matchmaker,” which brings together traditional craftspeople from Jerusalem with young industrial designers.

A workshop of blind brush-makers from the Old City worked with one designer to create delicately tinted incense brushes and pots. A basket-weaver and another designer made unique, woven-bottomed cloth shopping and handbags. A metal craftsman and his design partner created delicately cut tables and household goods, cleverly crafted with hidden letters and shapes.

“These are things that can only happen here, in Hansen or the Old City,” said Anat Safran, artistic director of Design Week. “I’m always surprised by the crowd here, all kinds, and it’s a microcosm of the conflicts and communities. It’s like a lab.”

The Hansen House opened several of its ante buildings and courtyards for this year’s Design Week, including the former laundry of the leper colony, which houses the “Applied Nature” exhibit, where several artists created works inspired by nature, that question the place of human design and bioengineering.

An intricate root pattern grown on the underside of a piece of sod at Jerusalem Design Week 2018. (Courtesy, Dor Kedmi)

Dutch designer Diana Scherer spent the last few weeks — “It was stressful seeing if it worked,” said Safran — weaving plant roots into an Arabesque design under a piece of sod, a system of roots that will eventually separate from the grass, a technique she created.

Then there’s the Digital Garden of Maya Ben David, who scans flowers and reprints them with a 3D printer and Luca Or’s paper anemones, delicate recreations of the beloved Israeli spring flower.

The inner courtyard of Hansen houses the “Granary,” looking at the many types of grain that once flourished in the region, hung in a spiral of sheaves. Nearby, another artist created the Balloon Factory, a workshop of silver, Mylar balloons cut in shapes reminiscent of the past and future of Israel, from pomegranates and scythes to traditional Palestinian keys, donkeys, and the twin tablets carried by Moses.

Cutting Mylar balloons of significant shapes, including one of an ancient ceramic jug, at Jerusalem Design Week 2018. (Courtesy, Dor Kedmi)

Back in the front gardens of Hansen, the Onya Collective created four fields examining mankind’s relationship with nature.

A stroll along the main sidewalk offers a look at a circular pantry of petri dishes holding heritage seeds, creating an archive of what was once planted. Across the way is a sentry of conceptual scarecrows whose clothes are slowly dyed different colors by a trickle of dyed water from a system of familiar black tubing and a zen garden for discovering the wonders of calm and serenity.

These concepts of conservation and nature are carried over at the nearby Bezeq Building, once owned by the telephone company and now used in part by Hansen, where a collection of exhibits range from the hands-on to more conceptual.

The main exhibition for Design Week, “The Human Conservation Project,” created by Safran and head curator Tal Erez, takes a look at the human effort to conserve its own existence, through a combination of artists from Israel and abroad.

There is the video imagery of an Australian effort to create a body that can sustain car injuries, the Alternative Limb Project that designs prosthetics, such as a vine or a synchronized hand, a knitted boyfriend doll, and hug machine or thermal rendering for viewing a full human image.

Examining petri dishes of heritage seeds in an exhibit about nature and conservation at Hansen House, created by the Onya Collective at Jerusalem Design Week (Courtesy Dor Kedmi)

“Technology allows us to do some pretty radical things in this race against time,” said Erez. “It’s a question of how far we’re willing to go.”

One of the most popular exhibits in the Bezeq space is “A Commonplace Book of Time,” a set of information machines that transcribe snippets of information, whether drawings, comics, or text, onto blank notebooks set in place by the viewers.

While Design Week ends on June 14, one exhibit, the “Flag Exhibition” that includes 29 Israeli and international artists reevaluating the role, meaning, and look of Israel’s flag, will remain open through June 28 at the city’s Beit Alliance near Mahane Yehuda.

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