Crafts and Design Biennale gets liftoff, at last

If you are looking to get a decent handle on the dizzying array of exhibits stretched across several interior spaces and outside spots over at the museum site, you’d better make a day of it.

ERAN LEDERMAN: ‘Sand Memories‘ (photo credit: HADAR SEIFAN)
ERAN LEDERMAN: ‘Sand Memories‘
(photo credit: HADAR SEIFAN)
Some place their faith in material tangible objects, while others tend more towards the spiritual side of life. And then there are areas of creative pursuit which feed off an engaging fusion of both lines of thought. That lies at the core of the 2020 Tel Aviv Crafts and Design Biennale, aka First Person/Second Nature, which finally opened at MUSA, Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv several months after its original, pre-pandemic start date under the guiding hands of cocurators Henrietta Eliezer Brunner and Yuval Saar, assisted in the mammoth task by deputy curators Merav Rahat, Nir Hermet and Leora Rozin.
First, a kindly positive cautionary word. If you are looking to get a decent handle on the dizzying array of exhibits stretched across several interior spaces and outside spots over at the museum site, you’d better make a day of it –  actually a day or two. There is just so much to see and take in. “Our museum specializes in material culture, in the past and present,” notes MUSA CEO and chief curator Debby Hershman. “In effect, over 20 years we held all kinds of biennales, with different materials –  ceramics, jewelry and so on.”
It was, Hershman notes, time to take a brave and pioneering step forward. “As part of the museum’s efforts to renew its work, and keeping in touch with the 21st century, we initiated the idea of assembling all the techniques, materials and exhibits under the same roof. This is not only an innovation on the Israeli scene but also on a global level. There are 200 biennales around the world, but only 11 of craft and design. They generally don’t go together, and nowhere do you get all the kinds of material together. We have, here, works by 300 Israeli artists.”
That’s a whopping spread, and the creations on display incorporate a commensurate stretch of genres, themes, approaches, concepts and substances. There are figurative works, such as Eran Lederman’s compact Sand Memories sculpture that echoes an earlier wooden African figure he crafted several years back together with a local artist in Zimbabwe. The reprise is based on a 3D sand print with an aluminum cast.
It is a fetching piece, as is Boris Shpeizman’s The Rise of the Lollipop Man, a freehand handblown glass and metal replica of a full-size motorbike. The dull yellow piece is comprised of a full 200 parts and, as the text on the accompanying plaque notes so succinctly, “is a real tour de force. Associated with masculinity, the work also addresses issues of gender roles and stereotypes.”
There is, indeed, no missing the off-beat two-wheeler, and there are numerous painstakingly crafted works dotted around the place. Take, for example, Maayan Shahar’s self- explanatory titled Stone Rug made largely of hundreds upon hundreds of small tuff stones and pebbles. Shahar collated the base material from gardens, traffic islands and public parking lots all over the country. She sifted through them before perforating the stones that made the final cut, threaded and connected them to produce an end product which looks uncannily similar to a classic Persian-style rug but, in terms of material and weight, is very different.
There are alluring glassworks, such as Dafna Kaffeman’s exquisitely fashioned Rule of Law, which features crystalline renditions of botanical and entomological specimens, and more down and dirty creations, like Yaniv Amar’s Fault mixed-media installation which, like quite a few other biennale exhibits, infers consumerism and utilitarianism.
And, as art is fueled by and interprets life, there are a bunch of site-specific works that reference contemporary life in the environs of the museum, and dig into the area’s past. Chief among these is Avner Sher’s Skyline cork and steel tower outdoor installation which feeds off the nearby prehistoric archeological site of Tel Qasile, the ruins of the former Arab village of Sheikh Munis and modern-day Tel Aviv’s ever upward aspiring cityscape.
The biennale’s moniker alludes to the reciprocal relationship that exists between the artist and their media of expression, and the repetitive actions required to internalize different skills to play a central role in their life, and are transformed over time into an instinct, a “second nature.”
There is much to see and internalize, in First Person/Second Nature. Thankfully the show, which was visited by new Culture Minister Chili Tropper last Thursday, is due to run through January 2021.
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