In Search of the Precious Stones
English Translation from Galeria Haaretz, August 29, 2012.

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When Suzanne Ramljak was invited by AIDA to come for a one-week visit to Israel last month, she didn’t imagine how intensive it would be. Among the visit’s  events in which she took part was a guided tour of the Bauhaus architecture in Tel-Aviv, a visit to the Dead Sea, a visit to the graduates’ jewelry shows at Shenkar, Bezalel, Tel-Hai School of Art, and the Department of Industrial Design at the Holon Technological Institute. She also visited the Jewelry Biennale at the Eretz Israel Museum, the jewelry exhibit of Shirly Bar-Amotz, the Andy’s Prize winner at the Tel-Aviv Museum of Fine Art, visited the Ein Harod Museum, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Museum on-the-Sim and the Ron Arad Design Museum in Holon.
Ramljak, 50, has been Editor of Metalsmith magazine, published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths for the last 12 years. She is a PhD candidate in Art History. Prior to her current position, she was editor of GLASS magazine and SCULPTURE magazine.
The purpose of her visit was to expose her to the local jewelry scene, which is one of AIDA’s main goals. AIDA is a non-for-profit organization of collectors of decorative arts in the United States, founded 10 years ago by Andy and Charles Bronfman, Dale and Doug Anderson to promote the work of Israeli artists in the United States.
“Before coming here, I knew that a good percentage of the cut and polished stones used in jewelry worldwide came from Israel,” says Ramljak. “But then I came looking for them and didn’t find them.”
What else did you know about the local scene?
“I knew there are good design schools in Israel and understood that there is a scene of high quality and sophistication. In the past, we published an article on the exhibit of four Israeli jewelers that took place in the US: Ester Knobel, Bianca Eshel Gershuni, Vered Kaminski and Deganit Schoken. We also published an article on Kaminski’s solo exhibit. Daniel Belasco, who curated an exhibit at the Jewish Museum on new religious rituals, later published an article on the exhibit where a few Israeli artists participated. Through all these, I became acquainted with a few names and it was nice to meet the faces behind them.”
What do you know at the end of the visit?
“I understood that the scene is much larger, wider and more sophisticated than I thought. I also understood the important role that the design schools play in the local scene. I was impressed by the quality of the graduates, considering the fact that they are undergraduates, because other than for the graduate program that opened this year in Shenkar, there are no parallel programs in Israel. Even the works of the first year students of Tel-Hai were very impressive, not to mention the graduates’ works.”
Did you notice differences between schools?
“Since the jewelry division in Bezalel is combined with the fashion and accessories department, many items which are not classical jewelry were included at the exhibit, such as shoes and bags. At Tel-Hai I recognized a focus on works stemming from personal ambition and story. The students immersed themselves in their work, found the things that they most wanted to do, what is most important to them, without considering if it will be accepted or if it belongs to a certain trend or another. These were more intimate works expressed through classical jewelry, in comparison to the works of Bezalel and Shenkar, where a variety of different materials were used. At the Shenkar exhibit, I was impressed by the wide variety and the clear connection to the industry. Not that the items were commercial, but not all of them were experimental.”
“I was also pleased to find out that the students didn’t imitate their teachers, something that often happens. There wasn’t a defined style for each school. Not all of them used the same materials, and it wasn’t possible to identify a work based on the school it came from, just from the aesthetics and materials point of view. Generally speaking, I didn’t see sloppy works, not only in the graduate shows. One of the results of the ‘do it yourself’ trend is sloppy works. As if the artist is telling the audience, ‘don’t bother me with the details, it’s just a piece of jewelry.’ But one needs to be skilled in order to create jewelry, as it should be. This is a practice that requires particular accuracy due to the scale. When you wear a jewel, something happens to your body. And this demands accuracy.”
What is the difference between the American jewelry scene and the Israeli one?
“In the United States there are many schools, while here all is concentrated in three departments. Despite this, there is a difference in everything related to the use of materials from an environmental and ecological perspective. The green movement has become dominant in American culture. It is reflected in questions such as ‘Where does your gold come from?’ ‘From where do the rest of the materials come’ and ‘What are the practices concerning recycling and ethics of use of these materials?’ I didn’t see developed practices in relation to this matter. As far as technology goes, there is in the United States a wider use of three-dimensional printing, which I also didn’t see much of in Israeli jewelry departments. An added difference lies in the use of legacy and history. This is reflected in the way ornaments are brought to life. This is a trend that I have seen less of in Israel, and is more evident in the jewelry scene in the US.
All this being said, what can you say about the tendencies of the Israeli jewelry scene?
“I’ve noticed that even though the subject of the work is not necessarily political, it is not infrequent that it is related to issues relevant to the country. An example of this is the Eretz Israel Museum Jewelry Biennale. Seemingly, it is a personal action: the participants in this exhibit were asked by the curator, Nirit Nelson, to find their ‘alter ego’ and create jewelry for themselves. Here as well there’s a political and public angle being played. When Jacob Kaufman designs prosthesis for the nose, it’s something very personal, but there’s a political connotation in it.
Another good example is Shirly Bar-Amotz’s solo exhibit. Here again, it’s a personal project based on the memories she has from Europe, and the result deals not only with personal and decorative issues, but also with nature and the ideal world that she partly imagines and partly vaguely remembers.  In the exhibit, both the personal and historical/cultural point of view are reflected, in both content and materials. One can see a connection between something synthetic made from plastic and her natural world. There’s a lot of meaning in her work, and what’s nice about it is that you don’t need to know the historical and political background in order to see it in her work
Galeria Haaretz, August 29, 2012.