A tapestry of rich and royal hue

Israeli, Palestinian, Beduin and Druse artistry are woven into a Tel Aviv exhibition.

‘Tabula Rasa’ – Moshe Roas, 2013.  (photo credit: LEONID PADRUL)
‘Tabula Rasa’ – Moshe Roas, 2013.
(photo credit: LEONID PADRUL)
‘Woven Consciousness – Contemporary Textile in Israel” is the name given to a recently opened exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum.
The exhibition presents over 50 Israeli and several Palestinian, Beduin and Druse artists and designers all working within the medium of textiles, and is curated by Irena Gordon, in-house curator at the Jerusalem Print Workshop and an independent curator in her own right.
From traditional cloth and fibers such as silk, linen and wool to the unorthodox use of peacock feathers, human hair and the inner rubber tubing from bicycle wheels, the exhibit presents visually striking designs and arrangements, and demonstrates many innovative practices and uses of textile in today’s culture.
Designers explore the meeting point between art and craft, often using hi-tech methods and laborintensive processes; for their part, interdisciplinary artists are seen as incorporating textile into installations, photographs and video works.
“The museum’s orientation is towards arts and crafts,” stated Gordon. “I wanted to put together an exhibition with designers, artisans and plastic and visual artists that work with textile. The intention was to reflect the presence of textile and its relevance in and to our culture,” she continued.
Traditionally, those working with textiles are seen to be a part of the folk arts and crafts movement, handing down techniques through the ages, often creating their own guilds.
Whether it was in the field of pottery, weaving or metalwork, to name a few, the craftsmen and women involved in these activities often achieved a high degree of workmanship in design and ornamentation.
For Israelis, it was the founding of the Bezalel Academy Of Art and Design, and later the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, that gave a focus to and originated the cultivation of traditional handcrafts.
“The institutionalization of manual crafts in Eretz Israel was part of the ambition to establish a national Zionist identity – an ambition partly formed out of an Orientalist stance. At the same time, new immigrants from European countries made a significant contribution to the textile industry,” said Gordon.
‘Tabula Rasa’ – Moshe Roas, 2013. (Leonid Padrul) ‘A Coat For Little Chicken’ – Andi Arnovitz, 2013.
(Leonid Padrul)contemporary art has seen artists move in and out of different disciplines, often using a variety of materials in which to express their ideas. Textiles, ceramics and glass are three mediums increasingly being used and gaining acceptance in circles usually confined to high art.
“Contemporary visual artists who embrace textile do so because of its material and metaphoric qualities.
The younger generation of textile designers work independently and with a lot of enthusiasm, despite the fact that there is little government support for the textile industry in Israel today,” said Gordon.
Given that designers and artisans need to be both productive and industrious. Many operate in the global arena, exporting their designs to international companies.
Some choose to work outside the mainstream, pursuing their craft in a quiet and unassuming manner.
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance that textile has played in both Eastern and Western culture.
In the English language the word “textile” is closely linked to that of “text,” which originates from the Latin texere, meaning “to weave.”
Our everyday language is rich with metaphors associated with textiles and its industry – a storyteller weaves a yarn or spins a tale, our lives might hang by a thread.
THE ASSOCIATIONS between textile and words and forms of storytelling have traditionally been seen in the silk scrolls from the Orient, European tapestry and in the quiltmaking of the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century.
Several artists and designers have incorporated text into their works.
Itamar Sagi and Jennifer Bar-Lev’s works are resplendent with color and heavily embroidered in the style of traditional quiltmaking. Sagi uses Hebrew text to transmit both personal and historical narratives.
The wealth of conceptual design and use of diverse materials impress in this exhibition. For example, Hagit Krakovsky fuses wool fibers and straw wood to fashion a bodiceshaped structure, Tzuri Gueta injected polymers into silk creating a richly textured surface alive with swirling patterns, and Limor Yosipovich has constructed a bed of nails on wood, intended to be a loom, suffused with a myriad of multicolored threads.
Gordon interprets textile “as a way of reflecting our identity, as a kind of second skin. It carries historical and cultural memories, and because of these things it assumes a substantial place in the history of art,” she explains.
Whether as cultural artifact or as intimate, personal belongings and textiles have resonance in our lives.
Gender, ethnicity, status, wealth, taste; all can be determined and associated with textile in a social and political context.
Issues of identity are explored in the photographs of Abir Atallah and a large-scale wall hanging by Buthina Milheim. According to the catalogue text, Milheim ages the fabric she works with by immersing it in tea and coffee, and sometimes hardens the material with wax. The work resembles a map of sorts; sewing needles are embedded in the material, colored thread is picked and unpicked, creating would-be topographical features and map-like lines spreading across the fabric – and the whole effect resembles a kind of desert-like, craggy landscape.
Kfir Shabat, Shiri Cnaani and the a f o r e m e n t i o n e d Gueta also present wonderful works resembling landscape formations. Shabat fashions sculptures by manipulating stainless steel fibers, his intention being to create a sense of movement.
The result is a densely interwoven and textured mass that, akin to the shapes created by Cnaani, rise and fall in rolling hill-like formations.
The majority of works in this exhibition are contemporary, although many designers integrate traditional work methods and fabrics with modern techniques and materials. There are, however, a few designers, such as Roni Yeheskel, Uri Tzaig and Sasha Stoyanov, who might more accurately be referred to as artisans, dedicated to traditional handcraft such as carpet-making and hand-loom weaving.
Its likely that many visitors to this exhibition will be drawn to the works shown by the designers and artisans, but video works by Roni Ben-Ari and Inbal Hoffman, and installations by Tal Shoshan and Dvora Morag are also recommended.
The exhibition runs until June 15.