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Issue #23
December 2020 - June 2021
The Small Details That Shape Us
Dori Oryan / June 10 2021

This trajectory is concerned with the ways in which we shape objects, while being shaped by them in turn. It explores how the objects surrounding us reveal who we are, both reflecting and structuring our behaviors and our self-perception. This itinerary examines the almost invisible aspects of design, and its constant influence on us. Have you ever considered why the icon of a WhatsApp call looks the way it does? Why a fork has three teeth, and whether we would eat different foods if it had two or five teeth? How the state defines the values it upholds without explicitly proclaiming them? Or what materials are used by artists and designers to create new works? In the course of this guided itinerary, we will learn how these elements both influence and are influenced by our cultural and social viewpoints.


Amcor (manufacturer), Amcor 10, 1960s

The appearance of the refrigerator, which replaced the icebox, enabled food to be preserved for longer, reduced the frequency of shopping, and preserved cooked food, seemingly liberating those who purchased and cooked it (women) to pursue other endeavors. The refrigerator did away with the argument that women must spend their days at home in order to cook, and thus participated in the gender-equality revolution. The Amcor 10 refrigerator was manufactured at the Amcor factory in Israel beginning in 1962. The factory manufactured various electric and home appliances, and its assembly lines produced up to 55,000 refrigerators per year. The design of this refrigerator reveals the influence of American design and the Streamline style, evident in its shape, handle, and Amcor logo.


Amcor (manufacturer), Amcor 10, 1960s. Photo: Itay Benit

Ilan Molcho (editor), Hebrew Typography: Practical Letters Catalogue Binder, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, 1980

From 1980 until the eruption of computers into the graphic design world, this catalogue was an inseparable part of every graphic design studio (before this profession was renamed “visual communication”), and of the curriculum in the field. The 24 fonts included in the book both represented the state of Hebrew typography and fixed it as a standard, while bolstering its status.


Ilan Molcho (editor), Hebrew Typography: Practical Letters Catalogue Binder, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, 1980. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Copenhagen Telephone Company (KTAS) and the telephone factory GN-Telematic (GNT; manufacturer), danMark 2, 1986

The telephone on display was incomparably sophisticated for its time. It featured a range of functions including different ringtones, a record of the last number called and identified calls, yet our focus, in this context, is its receiver. Telephones with receivers existed as early as 1896. Today, phones no longer have receivers, and are merely boxes with rounded corners that do not even reveal how our voice enters them. Yet receivers continue to exist – on street signs, in the WhatsApp icon, and even in the hand gesture meaning “I’ll call you.” As this example demonstrates, some objects continue to exist in collective consciousness even after becoming obsolete.


Copenhagen Telephone Company (KTAS) and the telephone factory GN-Telematic (GNT; manufacturer), danMark 2, 1986. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Gal On (manufacturer), Table Fan, 1961

The electric fan was part of our attempt to separate ourselves from nature and overcome its forces. Heat shall not vanquish us. Later on, the window air conditioner replaced the fan, followed by central air-conditioning and air-conditioned shopping centers, which triumph over city centers and their vulnerability to the weather. Yet just as we triumph over nature, nature triumphs over us. Apart from the ecological damage caused by air-conditioners, they – like fans – limit us to a restricted environment. We can only “survive” in an air-conditioned setting, while everything beyond it seemingly ceases to exist.


Gal On (manufacturer), Table Fan, 1961. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Elad Sarig

OTOTO (Ori Saidi and Daniel Gassner), T-Party Vase, 2005

This vase was originally created out of readymade ceramic products found in the OTOTO studio. Yet readymades are always part of a certain cultural landscape. If the designers lived in England, this vase would appear different, and would have perhaps been composed of the remainders of a Wedgwood porcelain set; in Holland, they would have perhaps used Delft cups and saucers. Given this studio’s location in Israel, the vase is composed of local ceramics – in this case a rather eclectic collection of copies made after ceramics from elsewhere in the world.


OTOTO (Ori Saidi and Daniel Gassner), T-Party Vase, 2005. Photo courtesy of OTOTO

Netafim, PCJ Online, 1996

The invention of drip irrigation by the Israeli engineer Simcha Blass, in 1959, exemplifies how environmental conditions impact the design of products. Given the land of Israel’s dry climate, various attempts were made over the centuries to create more efficient irrigation systems – ranging from stone terraces that collect rainwater to Nabataean stone mounds that served to collect dew. The drive to “make the desert bloom” and the dearth of irrigation water led to the invention of the modern irrigation system, which demonstrates how the “Jewish mind” takes existing products – from Chinese clay tubes to German plastic tubes – and manages to reinvent them.


Netafim, PCJ Online, 1996. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Yaakov Zim, Second Series of the Israel Pound – the Figures Series, 1959

A state has many means of transmitting messages concerning the values it upholds or rejects. Such message can be transmitted by a prime-minister’s speech, by taxing products defined as luxuries, by encouraging the advertisement of locally manufactured goods, as well as by two types of products issued by the state – stamps and banknotes. The series of banknotes issued in 1959–1960 reveals the state’s definition of exemplary figures. These banknotes do not feature famous individuals, but rather everyday types drawn from the Israeli collective: a young female agricultural worker representing the participation of youth in the Zionist project; a worker against the backdrop of a factory representing Israel’s growing industrial sector; a male scientist representing the Israeli version of the “Jewish genius”; and – on the reverse of the most important banknote – 50 Israel pounds – pioneers settling the Negev Desert. Thus, by means of this everyday object, the state defined its preferred agenda. By choosing representative types over famous individuals, the Israeli state of the late 1950s insisted – in contrast to other states at the time – on valorizing the collective.

Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Yaakov Zim, Second Series of the Israel Pound – the Figures Series, 1959. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Autocars (manufacturer), Susita – Cube Model, 1959–1966

The Susita is a product of the society in which it was born. It represents the ideals of the years during which it was manufactured – local Jewish labor and the Jewish power of invention. The manufacture of a local Israeli vehicle combined entrepreneurship and innovation with politics and the evasion of import taxes. The use of fiberglass in place of tin presented a technological solution for the creation of short production series, while offering an example of ingenious thinking as proof that there was nothing that Jews in Israel could not produce themselves. The production of the Susita began in 1958 and involved significant manual labor, which was considered an advantage at the time. Over the years, the dominance of Hebrew labor, favoritism, shady business plans, and fiberglass declined in the local arena, tarnishing the Susita’s reputation. The desire to do everything on our own was replaced by the desire to keep up appearances.


Autocars (manufacturer), Susita – Cube Model, 1959–1966. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Elad Sarig

J. Princenteil (manufacturer), Cheese and Butter Cutlery, 1950s

Although we almost never consider the cutlery we use while eating, it is the product of centuries of evolution and improvement. As Henri Petroski demonstrates in his book The Evolution of Useful Things, every change introduced into the design of cutlery – from the transformation of a single knife into a four-toothed fork to the rounded tip of the cutting knife – stems from a range of factors including the identity of the diners, the nature of their food, and the company they kept. Think, for instance, of the difference between Chinese food, which is designed to be eaten with chopsticks, and Western food, which is held with a fork while being cut with a knife. When we examine this set of cutlery, we can clearly identify the Polish influence in the ornamentation and in the structure of the knives’ blades – revealing how local “Israeli” culture is an amalgam of cultural habits imported from other countries.


J. Princenteil (manufacturer), Cheese and Butter Cutlery, 1950s. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Haim Murro (manufacturer), Pins by KKL-JNF for Israel’s Independence Day, 1956-1973

Designers: Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Yaakov Zim, unknown designer, unknown designer, Asaf Berg

These small KKL-JNF pins offer a portal for considering the story underlying the creation of our national identity, and through it – our identity as individuals. These pins were received or purchased on Independence Day or on the occasion of other national ceremonies. By wearing them on one’s lapel, the wearer declared: “I am part of the state of Israel.” The pin connected each wearer to many others, who together formed an “imagined community” – a group of people joined together through their collective identification as “Israeli.” This national identity, in turn, defined one’s personal identity, thoughts and actions. The creation of flags, passports, but also pins or songs – is thus a reciprocal process, in which objects are created by people in order to forge a nation, while the created nation defines its individual members.


Haim Murro (manufacturer), Pins by KKL-JNF for Israel’s Independence Day, 1956-1973. Photo: Sharon Murro

Kal-Kar Ein Carmel (manufacturer), Five-Liter Thermos, ca. 1967

The brand names of some products become representative of an entire category. Israeli Smartphones were initially called “Pelephones,” and refrigerators were referred to by the American brand name Frigidaire. Polystyrene has become synonymous with the name "Kal-Kar," after the Kal-Kar factory in Ein Carmel, which produces thermoses insulated with this material. Kal-Kar (sometimes mispronounced as Kal-Kal), was a product identified with picnics and hikes, which symbolized historical ownership of the country. Before the omnipresence of fast-food chains, it was the only way to ensure a supply of cold water outdoors. This product belongs to a group of “Israeli” products including the Tembel hat, the Susita car, and “biblical” sandals, which are collectively viewed as representing an identity shared exclusively by a specific group of people. The creation of such a group of products represents the way that we separate ourselves from other people and identify ourselves as part of the Israeli nation.


Kal-Kar Ein Carmel (manufacturer), Five-Liter Thermos, ca. 1967. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Padwa Design Studio (Alex Padwa, Gilad Davidi), Beresheet Lunar Launcher, 2012

This lunar launcher can be viewed as the Susita of 2020. It combines innovation, entrepreneurship and daring with the Israeli drive to be “the best.” The model presented here is a far cry from the actual lunar launcher. Yet the importance of Beresheet, as its creators state, is not whether or not it successfully landed on the moon, but rather its contribution to bolstering the interest in science and technology. Beresheet has proven that landing on the moon is within reach of Israeli society, and that Israel is part of the elite group of technological countries, thus enhancing our pride in our national identity. In this sense, it resembles the Israeli car which, in the 1960s, made Israelis believe in their ability to dream big.

Padwa Design Studio (Alex Padwa, Gilad Davidi), Beresheet Lunar Launcher, 2012. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi

Studio Kahn (Mey Kahn and Boaz Kahn), Herzl Collection (Model for molds, Experimentation with glazes, Final product), 2012–2013

Like T-Party, this project by Studio Kahn is concerned with readymades and with the simple objects that make up our surroundings. This series is based on cheap toys purchased on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv, which were translated into the medium of ceramics and combined into different formal arrangements to become decorative objects. In this project, Mey and Boaz Kahn demonstrate the power of designers to recast cheap, inconspicuous objects as a valuable and desirable source of visual pleasure.

Studio Kahn (Mey Kahn and Boaz Kahn), Herzl Collection (Model for molds, Experimentation with glazes, Final product), 2012–2013. From the exhibition "Black Box", 2021. Photo: Dor Kedmi


Dori Oryan designer and scholar of material culture

* Originally published as one of the itineraries in the exhibition "Black Box".
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