Designs on academia

Is this an academic institution or is it a vocational school, lecturers and students ask at Bezalel’s end-of-year exhibition.

Bezalel 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bezalel 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Academia and art seem to make strange bedfellows. Art, as any impressionist painter would have told you, has to feed off Mother Nature’s offerings in an immediate manner. Seventy-nine- year-old jazz titan Sonny Rollins would go along with that, too.
Already a member of the very highest echelons of the jazz fraternity of the day, in the 1950s Rollins took a sabbatical from performing in smoky basements and better-appointed jazz venues to renew his handle on “real” life, playing to the accompanying rhythms of passing trains on Williamsburg Bridge and strolling through meadows and orchards playing sonic tit for tat with the birds and the sounds of rustling leaves.
So where does that leave us when we come to take a look at the creative work produced by students in the cloistered rooms and halls of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design? According to the powers that be of the academy’s History and Theory Department, the incubator ambiance does not stifle creativity. The foreword to the department’s Protocollage 2010 publication talks of the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the arts students and their teachers and how the different disciplines within the institution fuse to yield rich artistic fruit.
The latter offerings are currently on display at Bezalel in the form of end-of-year works produced by students from all the academy’s departments. The exhibition runs until July 30 and includes works from across the institution’s creative spectrum, from fashion design and graphics to photography and architecture.
At last week’s press gathering at Bezalel, each department head enlightened the audience with a soupcon or two of his or her unit’s work in the past year and, in general, with some samples of students’ efforts and some suitably philosophical observations.
Architecture Department supremo Prof. Zvi Efrat, for example, considered the benefits offered by two opposing approaches to his unit’s endeavor. “There are those who believe that an academic ethos – academism – is the way to go, while others favor the professionalism track,” he said. “Is this an academic institution or is it a vocational school?” Efrat takes the practical view. “We should aim to produce architecture in a responsible manner and consider people’s responses to their surroundings,” he proffered. “Architecture and the structures we see on a day-to-day basis are a very important component of our lives.
We must always remember that.”
Meanwhile, Photography Department head Mickey Kratzman raised some intriguing points about his students’ work and about the way ahead – if, indeed, any exists – for the discipline. “For some time now there has been some discourse across the world about whether photography is actually dead or alive and kicking,” he opened provocatively. “I, of course, believe that photography is still in good shape.”
Kratzman touched on the inroads that technology has made into what was previously the exclusive domain of the professional, adding that progress offers advantages to professionals and artists alike. “The students here have started to address this issue,” he explained. “With computers and technology, which allow you to play around with photographic images, the quality of the photograph itself is less relevant than in the past.”
Kratzman went a step further and suggested that the creation of photographic works of art does not necessarily mean that the artist himself or herself has to take the source picture. “You can work without a camera. You can take images from the Internet and play around with them,” he said, although noting that it is not a new phenomenon. “Andy Warhol did that a long time ago, so I don’t think we need to be too bothered about it.”
Kratzman also touched on another intriguing quandary – whether photographic image can be considered art if the photographer took the pictures under instruction rather than selecting the subjects himself or herself. A student in the department, Tal Sofer, produced an interesting collection of images based on pictures she had taken over the course of a year at a police forensic laboratory. “Tal was told by the police what to photograph, but she still came up with some rich images,” noted Kratzman.
There was more “pilfering” in the Screen-Based Arts Department.
Prof. Dudu Mezach talked about a student who took images from 3,600 closed-circuit security cameras and produced a 35-minute film. “The student went for a wide range of images,” said Mezach, “including shots from a maternity ward and a homosexual pair making out on a street in New York.”
Mezach admitted that it all sounds very much like an invasion of privacy, and added that the student came to the realization himself when he veered a bit too close to home. “He was following some images from a security camera when he suddenly saw his own parents jogging on the beach at Tel Baruch. That’s when he said enough is enough.”
And, according to Visual Communication Department head Adi Stern, there are exciting developments afoot on his patch as well.
Stern’s faculty incorporates five main areas: classic graphic design; illustration; interactive design (e.g., on the Web and cellular communication design); motion graphics for broadcasting facilities (such as animation design, TV fillers and credits); and commercial design. Like Prof. Efrat, Stern is keenly aware of the need to maintain an even keel between the pursuit of new academic vistas in a comfy ivory tower and connecting with reality outside the campus.
“We train our students to become professionals, with the skills they need to find work and progress in the market,” he declared. “That’s why our teaching staff includes actual practitioners, people who have their own companies and other professionals, as well as academics.”
But is it possible to define what they do as “Israeli design”? Does such a thing actually exist? “I don’t know,” said Stern. “We are a young country with absolutely no tradition in design. If you look at a piece of furniture from, say, Scandinavia or Italy, you know where it comes from. I don’t really know if you can say that about what we produce in this country and, to tell you the truth, I don’t know if that is important at all.”
Apparently, we have some successful exports to show for the efforts of Stern and his departmental colleagues. Noma Bar, who graduated from Bezalel in 2000, is one of the top illustrators and graphic designers in London and last year was hired by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) to illustrate the nominees for Best Picture. Another Visual Communication Department alumnus, Eric Lerner, directed the main Coca-Cola film for the Beijing Olympics.
“Maybe the combination of our off-the-cuff approach, energies and improvisation does actually yield something special,” mused Stern. “I think time will tell.”