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Exhibitions > Birthing Past and Presence

Birthing Past and Presence / Omri Herzog

"new olds", the name of the exhibition, hints at the effect that characterizes the works on show: all are interpretive. Interpretation is a re-exposing of the given, made in the decisiveness of presence. This is why interpretation is always a passage through time: it redeems objects from their point of origin - actual or imaginary - as those that were there before, "in the past," and positions them in
relation to the unpredictable "present" of the renewed gaze and renewed attendance. And it is also a passage through space, since it transfers, projects, drags objects away from their physical, sensible, and seemingly-useful setting to a new setting and new phenomena: replication, disruption, distortion, play.

Design always assumes an object that was there in the first place; this is the possibly deceptive distinction between design and art, a distinction that collapses unto itself. Art attempts to draw near to the non-present reality of the ideal; design reproduces what is, i.e. grants new form to that which already possesses given form, or is trapped within it. But before this Aristotelian hierarchy was cast
as an historical truth that organizes the realm of the gaze and of naming, there was another hierarchy, the Platonic one, which has been relegated to the periphery of the consciousness engaged in the labor of matter: design, which is always redesign, is closer to the truth and expresses a striving towards the truth of matter and of form, as it demands an intimate knowledge of the abstract qualities of the object is made, designed with the primordial knowledge of the qualities of objects and their use, does art burst forth to create a reproduction of the existent object, which is already present in its materiality.

Design precedes art, contains it, since it is responsible for the presence of the object as it used to exist, which shows through the outline of the new object. It is always in correspondence, a sign, pointing towards something beyond itself, something that came before. For this reason the objects in the exhibition appear undeniably haunted, and do not stand in glorious seclusion of self-identicality.
Each one is multi-dimensional interior in which parallel traditions of the materiality of form, of outline and matter combine and collide, quarrel and operate; they are ever mimicking an earlier gesture, which itself was never original and which emerges - to rephrase Roland Barthes - from the infinite rooms of culture. And all those gestures argue, parody or carry on a dialogue with one another.

This is why the exhibition has an aspect of ongoing playfulness, of a game; in a game, any game, there are several partners, even if only imaginary ones. All the works in the exhibition, even those marked by sternness, play with the past: kneed and tongue and detach the knowledge it safeguards, either openly or covertly. They dismantle the past only to reassemble it: from that angle, the works - as well as their placement in relation to one another throughout the museum - create the postmodern
game of reconstruction and quotation. They do not claim ownership on a material outline, or reinforce standards through which use-value, functionality, or a given aesthetic apparatus can be declared; nor do they attempt to reach the chair and of the carpet, of glass and of wood. Only after the essence of the object. On the contrary: the works use what we already know (what a chair looks like, what is the value of using utensils), only to gnaw away at that knowledge, point to its formal and material limits, and to the incomprehensible arbitrariness of these limits.

It is commonly assumed that postmodernism implies being cut off from the past, an ominous denial of it or a psychotic tendency to crush and annul it. But this is a mistake; a commonly made mistake because it is wonderfully practical for anyone who - either purposely or through laziness - aspires to enforce control and preserve the authority of the "expert" gaze. The objects in the exhibition circle
around the standards of functionality, usefulness and beauty, and throw their barbs at them while simultaneously accepting them as givens. They use a tradition of materials, textures, outlines, consistencies and forms that have come before neither to destroy them or make them laughable,
nor to worship or mourn over them. They were designed to remind us that the standards regarding the essence of the "useful" might be subject to negotiation; they are not to be presupposed.

The dialogue with the past, or with tradition, is particularly intriguing in the Israeli setting. Israeli
design has no long-standing, proud and nourishing heritage it can cuddle up to or quote from either comfortably or mischievously. It has no single legacy, and no consensus on the stamp or essence of the legacies it draws from. When speaking of custom - for example, oral patterns (folk tales, superstitions, legends, oral history), symbolic or archaic media (rituals, dreams and magic), or traditional practices (dialects, spoken language, music and dance, a final understanding or definition or standard regarding the tradition of Israeli cultures, as well as Israeli design, is a hodge-podge of influences and citations, known to some and strange to others. It is composed of shifting sources,
inaccessible memories sometimes blocked by history's barrier only two generations away. And so Israeli design traditions are always on loan, restless, imitative and searching; they lift their gaze towards the global, but are planted in a continuous pretense of local autochthony that has seemingly always existed here.

For this reason, Israeli designers participating in the exhibition can place the "past" and their interpretations of it in limitless historical and spatial locations; from the puritan Israeli functionalism of the fifties, through freely imagined older European and Arab traditions and even - lacking a more canonical heritage - through dialogue with design in recent decades. When "tradition," or the past, is
not entirely clear, even the Israeli "new olds" turns into a game of loitering, selection and imagination. It invents the past along with the present.

The works of Israeli designers in the exhibition afford us an opportunity to think about the range of formal and material images of the "past," and about the inspiration it provides contemporary creative work in Israel. The main sensation arising from the joint display is that of temporariness, of piling on and accretion: an outline of a wild, ironic and fragmental archeology of origins, inspirations and memories. Arik Ben Simhon's work "SECRETS D-6" acts as a symbolic starting point for the
exhibition viewer; it includes a heap of drawers which is only seemingly stable. Though the drawers are marked by a natural finish and each is perfect unto itself, they lie one regional recipes, handicrafts, bodily gestures and more) - They do not permit comfortable storage of information,
heritage or an organic memory which is tidy and collective.

The Israeli concept of "the past," is rooted in the inscrutability of the collapse of historical continuity.
Zionist vision did not situate its past as chronologically adjacent to its time; it soared over history, well above "two thousand years of exile," and placed its ideological wellsprings in the mythological biblical period. The new Israelis - as opposed to the old, flaccid, feeble Jews - are direct descendants of Joshua Bin-Nun, of an undaunted, ancient Hebrew tribe. Thus did local ideology outfit its citizens and culture with the imaginary traces of myth, denying them a concrete past. "Home" became a mythical collective narrative rather than a concrete memory, and under the ordinance of the melting pot, personal and collective memories and traditions were suppressed or silenced.

Myth alone does not supply a satisfying posture; the Israeli designers' exhibits reflect a yearning, longing or orphaned feeling regarding a neat repertoire of the forefathers' legacy. The designers are called upon to create matter anew, from scratch, and to recognize its qualities in absentia of a wide-ranging tradition of use that defines its purposes and its aesthetic values; simultaneously the exhibits ask for recognition of the random spaces within which and from which the work of citation and loan takes place. Thus the design itself makes memorial objects hollow, divided or cluttered; rich in empty spaces, silences and absences. In Ototo's work "The Tea Party," in Eilon Armon's striped carpet, or David Amar's table, this movement is present: an attempt to contain the pieces, distorted as they might on top of the other in disorder, threatening to collapse. coherence or consistency, it nonetheless uses its parts to declare a formal rehabilitation, a new function, rickety as it might be, which accrues out of discrete materials placed side by side with next to nothing tying them together.

These objects are permeable; they are the consequence of a jumbled accumulation, just as the "past" they point to was externally forced rather than rising out of itself in the orderly movement of shared history or decoded genealogy, in whose wake one might walk either cautiously or arrogantly. This permeability is present in the experimental materiality of Yaacov Kaufman, Pini Libovich or Tal Gur, or in the formal experimentation of Haim Parnas, Noam Tabenkin and Tal Mor: both via the objects' unsealed quality, as they comprise of a series of open spaces, and through the way they create an unusual formal momentum which expropriates the object from any unified and exclusive demonstration of its identity.

When the Israeli past is revived, it is impossible to stay in the hackneyed gesture of cultural archeology which ordains raising what has settled in the dust of enforced forgetfulness from its historical ashes, and giving it a new countenance. In the local design field, the New Olds is a call for an uprising; that is perhaps why the name cannot be translated into Hebrew. Being severed from the past is inspiring to the degree that it is restrictive; it permits desecration, boldness, recreation. It requires interpretation carried out in relation to an extremely fluid compilation, faltering and defiled, of materials, shapes and compositions planted in an imaginary - strictly imaginary - past taken from here and there, from then and now, from East and West, from ancient myth and from the hiddenness of providence.

be, in a new structure. And even if the new structure lacks this interpretation does not attempt to heal the past or mourn for it, since to do so it would have to circumscribe it. The past of Israeli design is an accumulation that refuses authority, and here lies an unconstrained motion of liberation and freedom. In an undefined culture which reinvents its rights, its past and its future - through a
continuous, Sisyphean, often futile effort - the design of identity and its interpretation in relation to form and matter draws up liquid blueprints. 

To the 'new olds' exhibiton page >>

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