Should 92-year-old Pete Seeger happen to saunter through the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum on March 24, he would probably allow himself a quiet chuckle. Along with those who turn up for the event, the iconic American folk singer would observe Aliel Kaye and her five colleagues from Kvutza Vechoo (The Etc. Group) lugging around large house-like cardboard boxes to create something of a virtual urban environment.
“It’s funny. When I started thinking about this project, I’d keep hearing Seeger singing ‘Little Boxes’ in my head,” says 30- year-old Kaye. The song in question was written by Malvina Reynolds and became a hit for Seeger in 1963. A satire about the emergence of suburbia and middle-class conformism, the lyrics refer to clone-like dwellings that are “all made out of tickytacky, and they all look just the same.”
The arranging and subsequent dismantling of the cardboard mini-houses, which will measure around two meters by three meters each, comprise the group’s A City Opportunity presentation as part of the Art Weekend event in Tel Aviv, which is the opening item of the city’s Year of Art program, which will take place March 20- 24.
The transient collection of virtual dwellings will change shape and form as Kaye and her colleagues – Hagar Shoham Solan, Nadav Bignitz, Lital Neta Bukelman, Noam Batrani and Yoav Eitan – organize and reorganize the boxes.
“There is an interactive element to what we will be doing at the museum,” explains Kaye. “The way the public reacts to what we do, and where people stand and move, will affect how we group and place the houses.”
Kaye and the rest of the Kvutza Vechoo have a declared social activism intent. They all studied architecture together at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem – they are all interns in various Tel Aviv practices at present – and embarked on their social-oriented path together.
“It began with a project we did as students,” recounts Kaye. “We designed a temporary shelter for homeless single mothers in Jerusalem. Today, in our day jobs we engage in actual architecture. But as a group, we aim to address the areas that interface with architecture, things in the margins, in the everyday domain that relate to art and the public expanse. Our agenda is definitely social, and we see ourselves as activists.”
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Just last summer the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum was the site of one of the demonstrations in the social protest campaign, and a few minutes’ walk away on Rothschild Boulevard, there was a very different collection of temporary dwellings.
Kaye says there is a thematic bond between the group’s temporary installation and the protest tent cities.
“Last summer we carried out an activity together with the social protest. We called it Affordable Akirov.”
The reference was to the luxury Akirov Towers apartment blocks in north Tel Aviv whose well-heeled residents include the likes of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“We try to make telling statements through small and accessible projects,” Kaye continues.
“We made small models of the apartment blocks, which anyone can put together. We made them out of Chinese takeaway menus – sort of sleazy – and everyone could assemble their own mini-Akirov Tower. We also gave out chopsticks, which people took with them to the demonstrations.”
The temporary A City Opportunity installation will address the social side of housing and the design of our urban environments. Kaye and the other members of the group are firm believers in the role architecture plays in the quality of our life and its impact on society as a whole.
“This project started from the understanding that today there is a tendency to build compounds and that there is far less importance attached to the street and public areas.
We strongly believe that architecture and town planning as professions can express the enormous value there is in the public domain. Architecture, as a whole, can provide a platform for the creation of a community. That was one of the motivating factors behind our planning of the museum project. We believe that the public expanse is of equal value to the private area in our homes. We also think that boundaries between the public and private areas have become blurred,” she says.
That is an interesting notion, given the increasing tendency to shut ourselves off in our private world, where we isolate ourselves from others by, for example, listening to music through headphones on the street, tend to physically meet up less frequently and make do with virtual encounters.
Says Kaye. “I have actually seen people communicate by Facebook in the same café. But I don’t think that negates the desire to actually get together. People do get out to work and do walk through the city’s streets. We believe that the design of a city can promote that shared public experience, and that is one of the ideas we want to convey through our cardboard box project.”
A City Opportunity is a snug fit with the other items in the Art Year launch event, which will take place between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. The event organizers describe the program’s offerings as “presenting works that reflect interactivity and cooperation on many levels.”
The latter relate to the collective process of creation between artists and different groups and communities that listen to each other and fuel each other’s work. There is also a definitively multidisciplinary artistic ethos to Art Year, encompassing visual arts, music, interactive design, programming, architecture, sound and animation.
More than anything, the program organizers say they want to highlight the city as a living and changing organism in which the public takes an active role in the creative process.
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