Utopians Fantasists / Group Exhibition

Curators: Einat Leader and Shachar Cohen

Opening: Thursday 10/11/22 at 19:30

20:45 | Performance : “Capacity” by Maya Reshef and Yuval Finkelstein

Gallery talk at Benyamini center: Thursday , 22/12/22 at 18:30

Conversation with the participants in the exhibition and Closing: Saturday, December 31, 2022, 12:00-14:00 pm

Participants: Tslil Abudraham, Guy Aon, Anaelle Attab-Azoulay, Kinana Ebraheem, Omri Fisher, Artium Gorbenko, Galit Krupik, Hasan Kurd, Naama Levit, Alma Lion, Alaa Obedat, Hilla Shapira, Fatma Shkerat, Maya Resheff, Or Turko, Sofia Zakharova.

Terms of Adornment / Einat Leader

Designers aspire to create a better world from a human perspective, and fantasize about doing so. They seek to improve the relationship between people and the objects that surround them, while promoting social values relevant to a specific culture. In this sense, a consideration of humans and their environment is already embedded in objects. Objects do not exist in a vacuum, but are rather attuned to the people and society they were designed to serve. Objects intended to improve our functioning, interface and interaction with our environment thus contain a utopian, optimistic thrust to create a better world.

Jewelry is similarly related to the human body and to the social environment in which it acts, and generally touches upon a longing for a perfect appearance, a rare material, or an alluring form. In his essay “The Secret and the Secret Society,” written in 1908, the German sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel wrote about the connection forged between people by means of jewelry.[1] Simmel described a dialectical state in which jewelry “acted” by replacing a feeling of superiority in relation to others with a sense of dependence on them, and by replacing good intentions expressed by the aversion of one’s gaze with jealousy. These feelings in relation to an item of jewelry are similar to the contradictory inclinations of individuals intent upon the gratification of others: showing kindness and attempting to foster joy, while hoping that the kindness and joy will be reciprocated as a sign of appreciation and even of envy concerning their greatness and benevolence. Jewelry underscores the singularity of its wearer’s personality, pointing to its remarkable quality not by means of coercive power, but rather by providing the viewer with a voluntary experience of pleasure. A person’s adornment of their body is directed at the self, yet depends on the admiration of others. Wearing jewelry is, according to Simmel, one of the strangest sociological acts: a form of magic, which enhances the individual’s significance by means of the visual pleasure it offers. Thus, he argues, jewelry is at once egotistic and altruistic. It is a social and public object, yet is simultaneously private and personal. In this manner, jewelry moves in the sphere between the private and the public. It does not operate in a vacuum, but is rather carried on the body, and serves to organize and supplement a physical, personal and social reality. In other words, adornment is shaped in relation to the human body and to the individual’s social and cultural behavior. A consideration of the environment is built into adornment. Moreover, contemporary jewelry is noticeably concerned with the human spirit, at least as much as it is concerned with the body. Many jewelry items bespeak a critical stance and aspirations for a better ordered world, focusing first and foremost on human beings. Jewelry thus strives towards what should be in terms of its form, materials and themes; in this sense, one can state that contemporary jewelry has an underlying utopian thrust.

          The word “utopia” comes from the Greek for “no place,” or “nowhere,” and was first employed in English as the title of Thomas More’s influential book, published in 1516.[2] Utopias are invented cultural models that represent a quest to resolve the problems of this world, and may be classified according to their content, form or function.[3] Various facets of utopia have been frequently examined in art. In a local context, it is worth noting the utopian vision of Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel School of Art, in which he detailed his vision for a new, more just society, centered on art.[4]

Utopias are centered on humans, and strive to create an alternative, better world order capable of replacing the existing one. This aspiration is one of the foundations of the field of design more generally, although – in contrast to theoretical thinking – design is concerned with an attempt to realize the fantasized future and give it concrete form. Thus, given its positivist bent, utopian thinking lies at the basis of design. Fantasy is the creative tool that allows for an exploration of a possible culture. In the realm of jewelry, culture and our attitude towards it can be reflected in the act of adornment and the symbolic declarations carried upon the body by means of various materials. Jewelry demands a concise focus, attention to details, and technical knowledge. It allows for broad thinking on a miniature scale that is concentrated, intimate, and close to the body. Indeed, one of the historically distinct characteristics of jewelry is its ability to concentrate the cultural essence of a given era upon the body, presented as an active, dynamic gallery. To begin with, its location on the body is always symbolic – both in terms of precedents and traditions, as well as in terms of the surrounding body’s exposure. The body is a significant aspect of the jewelry’s presentation, due among other things to the intimacy and personal practices underscored by its wearing. Secondly, the materials of which it is composed, and their quality, rarity, or unusual character, also endow it with a social “role.”  The material can thus provide the jewelry item with cultural capital, status and prestige. The ability of jewelry to reflect a given culture also pertains to the professional or technological work invested in the production of its different components or form. Jewelry can thus also appear desirable due to the creative investment and labor put into its creation, or due to its structural uniqueness and details. These aspects all support the ability of jewelry to represent society and  its discourse nonverbally, offering a miniature essence of a particular culture.

          The raw materials used in this context, as Roland Barthes noted in his essay “From Gemstones to Jewelry,” similarly carry cultural significance and serve to take a stance, much like the form, function and idea underlying the works.[5] In the past, jewelry was made of materials available in a specific habitat. Today, since we are “flooded” by a wide range of materials, the very act of choosing a material becomes a declaration of sorts. It is difficult to detach any material from its environmental impact or from that of its byproducts and their tremendous influence on the economy, politics or religion. Barthes defines the meaning of jewelry based on the basic characteristics of its material makeup and its impact on the development of culture, life and the world. According to him, in contrast to the past, modern jewelry is no longer awarded only as a prize, but has become “liberated.” As such, it serves multiple purposes and functions as an independent, magical object, which control human appearance and endows it with meaning. In this sense, jewelry items become utopian sociocultural capsules, molded from the vision and fantasy of their creators. Nonetheless, jewelry items do not necessarily serve to represent positive views, and contemporary jewelry may at times contain dystopian elements, describing the world as a harsh place with real problems. Alongside the contemporary technological devices carried on the body, and attempts to subjugate and engineer it in a range of ways, consumer culture and the media have led creators to search for a new contemporary language for today’s world. The historical codes of form or matter are no longer sufficient, and the creation of jewelry requires a reexamination of social structures, which are sometimes indifferent to individual viewpoints.

          This multidisciplinary exhibition features works concerned with jewelry, the body, and contemporary adornment, which are not limited to the field of jewelry design. The connection between different mediums concerned with adornment removes disciplinary boundaries between different creative fields, which sometimes impede the development of a significant discussion concerning a single category of objects, such as jewelry. These works were all made by emerging creators. They critically point to the faults and flaws inherent to our reality, while also turning an optimistic gaze on the possibility of constructing a new reality, which they view as more appropriate and nuanced. Engaging in a dialogue with their observers, just as Simmel described, the works on display are exhibited in detachment from the body. As such, they invite visitors to the exhibition to reflect on presence and absence in their syntax and use, while offering a point of view that is distant and surreal in some instances, yet seeks proximity to everyday life in other contexts. As such, the exhibition is an attempt to imagine and create new and improved terms to delineate the gap between what a progressive world can offer, and between the complex reality in which they are active.

[1] Georg Simmel, “Adornment,” in The Sociology of Georg Simmel (1908), Vol. 10, trans. and ed. K. Wolf, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950, pp. 338 -344.

[2] Thomas More, Utopia, trans. and ed. Paul Turner, New York: Penguin Classics, 1965.

[3]  Utopia: An anthology, eds. Avraham Yassour and Noga Wolff, Tel Aviv: Resling Publishing

[4] Boris Schatz, Di Geboyte Yerusholem, 1918. Originally published in Yiddish by the Hebrew Publishing Company.

[5] Roland Barthes, “From Gemstones to Jewelry,” in The Language of Fashion, trans. Andy Stafford, New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 

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