The first time Ran Wolf was in Hansen House, it was part of a childhood dare with his friends. That was years before the historic Jerusalem location became known as a place to host culture events such as the upcoming Jerusalem Design Week. Back then, the leper hospital was still active.
“I took about five showers and couldn’t sleep for days,” Wolf told In Jerusalem ahead of the event. His association with the building in the upcoming week will be for artists and designers rather than the contagious disease of leprosy that today can be treated with antibiotics.
The tall walls still exist, but today they lead into a charming garden that surrounds the structures that date back to the 1880s.
“This is the ninth year for Jerusalem Design Week and it keeps getting better every year,” Wolf, a general manager of the project and an urban planner, told In Jerusalem.
Around 200 Israeli and international designers will be featured, with about 50 from various countries including Turkey, Romania, Taiwan, Japan, China and India. About 90% of the works were made specifically for the festival.
This year’s theme is East, and Wolf, a Jerusalem native, has many thoughts on what the term means. “East of what?” he pontificated. “East Manhattan, Eastern Europe, the Far East? Actually, the decision about which side is east and which side is west is a human decision that was made in Greenwich,” Wolf said, referring to the prime meridian in England in which modern maps are centered.
One installation is a round outdoor pavilion called East of Sun erected in the Hansen House courtyard. It is meant to convey the idea that in a circular structure, there is no true east or west.
Another is a collection of entries from students at the NB Haifa School of Design on their personal interpretation of the concept of east and west.
Some exhibits feature Asian themes. Wolf explained that certain styles from China, Japan and Taiwan have now become cultural phenomena in the West. Several such designers will be in Jerusalem for the event.
One of these is titled “Drawn by Drone” by a Japanese team called Figlab. Can unmanned aerial vehicles create works of art? The combination of technology and aesthetics is what makes the event so interesting.
But as much as Wolf is excited about the creators from abroad, he is equally enthusiastic about giving back to the city where he grew up.
“We wanted to give the community of Jerusalem a way to participate in Design Week,” he said, “so we are taking designers from Jerusalem to work with local businesses.”
In past years, several businesses have benefited from the creative sprucing up from the design week participants.
“We want local businesses and local designers,” Wolf explained.
He described a previous year’s project on Aza Street where the participants created graphic designs in the widows of local shops. Wolf said it brought in extra revenue and helped rejuvenate older businesses. This year the plan is to work with local skilled craftsmen, metalworkers, shoemakers and other artisans.
Local artists and designers featured in the exhibit reflect the diverse population of the capital city.
“We are doing a collaboration with Hamiklat Gallery,” Wolf said, referring to the Art Shelter Gallery located in the Mekor Baruch section of Jerusalem. The art space is located in a haredi neighborhood, and the Orthodox artists incorporate their beliefs into their works.
In keeping with the theme of East, the gallery will present works that incorporate the artistic mizrah wall plaques that have historically been placed on the walls of synagogues or private Jewish homes indicating which direction to face when praying. It is traditional to pray facing toward Jerusalem, and the “mizrah boards” take into account that Jews of the exile would face that direction. Of course, Jews living in the “East” would thus be facing west, toward Jerusalem, when in prayer.
The other take of the theme of “mizrah” is the term “Mizrahim,” a word used today to refer to the Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewish population.
Muslim artists from Jerusalem and other Arab communities will be featured in what is called the Matchmaker Project, which features handmade wood carvings and other traditional items. A special exhibit will be featured off-site at the nearby Islamic Museum of Art.
Students from the various schools, clothing designers, architects and the artists from abroad will gather in the historic courtyard in the Talbiyeh neighborhood.
HANSEN HOUSE was officially open in 1887 as a leper asylum, to treat what is sometime called Hansen’s disease. It operated up until the year 2000.
“Every year even in Israel people still get the disease,” Wolf explained, and although modern medicine can prevent its horrifying effects, it has generated fear for generations.
In 2009 the government began the process of declaring it a national heritage site. With the help of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority, Hansen House was reopened in 2013 as an art and culture center.
“Every year we have more than 100 events in the theme of design, art and culture,” Wolf said. “We have 500 students from Bezalel with a focus on design and tech, and we have a lab with 3-D printers and other cutting-edge equipment,” he stated.
There is also a residency program in the basement, where film, industrial design and art students create their works. But the new residents of the basement still don’t completely erase the past 100 or so years.
“There is a permanent exhibit of old photos showing the former patients of Hansen House,” Wolf related. “Some people look at those photos and are then afraid to touch the walls. The urban legends and mystery surrounding this place are still here after so many years.”
He credits the preservation of the building to Ruth Wexler, who served as head nurse in the final years of its operation. “She was like the guardian of the compound because she was worried what would happen to this unique building.”
Wolf said he is pleased with the result and notes the center is low-maintenance and takes in revenue from many of the events.
SO, IS design art for art’s sake, or does it have a practical application, such as beautifying an old store or making a more useful utensil?
“The line between design and art today is unclear,” Wolf told In Jerusalem, “and I think that’s a good thing.”
“Design today is a way for strategic thinking,” he explained. “It is used for urban planning and service design. In the online world, designers engage in UX, or user experience.”
He added, “design used to be related to aesthetics and then engineering, and today the borders are unclear, and that’s good because artists and designers can do things without giving themselves a narrow definition of their work.”Jerusalem Design Week will open with a special Chinese-themed evening on June 13 at 7:30 p.m.; the event will run until June 20. Admission is free. Most programs will take place at Hansen House, located at 14 Gedalyahu Alon St.
For a full schedule, visit www.jdw.co.il
For more information on Hansen House visit hansen.co.il/en
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