Plastic jugs of liquid cleaner sit in the same display as handcrafted mold-blown glass bottles from the 10th century. A 3D printer attempts to capture the beauty of an ancient golden artifact. A hand-carved wooden panda bear sits beside a gang of mummies, on a ventilator machine. These are just a few of the creative displays showing at the Tel Aviv Biennale of Crafts and Design, featured in Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum, or MUZA, which is home to galleries full of historical and archaeological exhibits, now intermingled with an exciting modern twist.
The Biennale will take place every two years. Yet for the first time ever, “we wanted something in the spirit of the 21st century. It’s the first time everything is together and runs throughout the entire museum. There are hundreds of contemporary art biennales throughout the world, but only about a dozen focus on contemporary craft and design – and they are never together. It’s always either ceramics, or glass, or jewelry, etc. Our Biennale is the first time, in Israel and internationally, that we combine all crafts, mediums, and practices together in a contemporary way. This is innovation in terms of the international world of art,” says Dr. Debby Hershman, Deputy Director, Chief Curator at MUZA, and founder of the Biennale.
“We aim to embark on a new path, which will lead us to a new definition of contemporary craft and design: a bold initiative that binds together all of these fields and illuminates the scene of Israeli craft and design.”
In collaboration with a dream team of five creators and top designers, and local design schools, 3,000 people submitted proposals. Only 300 were chosen. Originally slated to open in March 2020, the Biennale ran into its own issues as the coronavirus hit Israel. As the production team worked hard to ensure the exhibit was complete, COVID-19 and a closing economy lingered in the air. The 400-person team was forced down to 100, down to 50, down to 20 – still in hopes of completing setup. By the time full lockdown hit Israel in mid-March, the exhibit was complete, yet no one was certain when it would be seen by the public.
Last week thanks to lifting regulations, the MUZA was able to re-open and invited a group of 40 young artists, designers, musicians, and community drivers in Tel Aviv to get the first peek at the Biennale, titled “First Person, Second Nature.” More than an exhibit, the Biennale offers a fresh and fun experience, with a widespread playground of art, culture, interactive designs, sound and video installations, a research lab overlooking the city, and so much more. The exhibit was only supposed to be open 6 months but has been extended through the year. The museum is currently open three days a week and invites visitors to step into a new world of ancient, and modern, craft and design.
Hershman also states that “As an archaeologist and anthropologist with a special interest in material culture, I appreciate the deep meaning of the integration of disciplines, the connection between past and present that is part of the museum’s DNA. Glenn Adamson, the key theorist in contemporary craft speaks of ‘material intelligence.’ As this exhibition reveals, all aspects of material culture are a reflection of society, politics, and values pertaining to tradition and technological innovations…it invites a unique dialogue that’s spread over 3,000 years and raises a discourse that has never existed before.”
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