Ancient Crafts Create Breakthrough Designs at The Dead Sea

By Eden Zurek, JNS.org

The Dead Sea is a haven of relaxation for the many thousands of visitors who flock to the lowest place on Earth. Visitors love to take advantage of the natural spa treatments and float on the sea’s tranquil shades of water to recharge their batteries and heal.

One group of visitors, however, recently made their way down to the Dead Sea for a lot more than relaxation. Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem’s Department of Industrial Design, held a three-day off-site seminar to spark creativity and opportunity in the minds of their students, inspiring them to produce innovative new designs.

The Dead Sea Seminar has taken place every December since 2004 and was the brainchild of then-chairman of the Department of Industrial Design, Professor Ami Drach. After his sudden death seven years ago, the department decided to honor their beloved mentor and keep his tradition alive by dedicating future seminars in his memory.

The seminar introduces different approaches to craft, including ancient, manual and computerized. Methods and techniques are presented by the department’s lecturers alongside guest designers from abroad in a variety of workshops, such as blacksmithing, sand-casting, Bedouin-style weaving, plastic rotation, wood-engraving and 3D printing with mud and coffee.

Students are encouraged to think outside the box.

Though the seminar is officially run by the Department of Industrial Design, it’s evident that the students are involved in every step of the process. They take part in all arrangements, workshops, kitchen duties and even financial expenses. The seminar isn’t created for them; rather, it is created by them. For example, last year, the students decided that they no longer wanted to use plastic cutlery as the ecological aspect is a focal part of the seminar. Therefore, this year, each person brought their own set of cutlery, plates and cups.

When the students are not spending their time working and creating, they are most likely to be found setting up their own tents, doing yoga and bonding around the bonfire. One of the main values highlighted throughout the seminar is teamwork.

“Each person comes from a different background and has their own unique set of skills to share,” said student Erez Eitan. “We all work together, combining ideas to create new and wonderful things.”

During the seminar, students are encouraged to open their minds and think outside the box.

“We are here to experiment and find new solutions,” said Rabea Gebler, an exchange student from Germany.

“This workshop is an opportunity to remember the simplicity and beauty of nature, and the world of art. This place allows us to put our worries aside and stop our daily routines, take a deep breath, and let our wild ideas run free,” said student Sharon Delevi.

This year, for the first time, international guest lecturers participated in the seminar, working hand-in-hand with the students. This new initiative was mutually beneficial for both students and guests, who were exposed to new ideas and varied methodologies.

Having never visited the Dead Sea before, award-winning French product designer, Marlene Huissoud—one of the international guests invited to the seminar to help students push boundaries—said she found the opportunity to combine the beautiful natural surroundings with art extremely valuable.

“This location allows you to disconnect from all the limitations that are holding you back,” described Huissoud. “It is fantastic for the students to learn about all of these primitive techniques, which challenge their current ways of thinking and creating. We encourage them to search for alternatives, and since we live in such a materialistic age, we wanted to take the students back to the roots of crafting, start from zero and rethink everything they know in order to create a better and more sustainable future.”

Huissoud was invited to the seminar by artist Omer Polak, product designer and graduate of Bezalel Academy. Polak, who lives in Berlin, agrees with Huissoud’s approach.

The Dead Sea can be compared to a desert island.

“The seminar is amazing in its concept that it is low-tech and takes place in the lowest place in the world, allowing for the return of ancient crafts,” said Polak. “In a world full of machines and high-tech, we sometimes forget the basics of using our hands and nature to create. Things that are developed during these few days can serve the students throughout their entire careers.”

Ido Ferber, a Bezalel Academy graduate, who organized this year’s seminar, explained that “the industrial revolution almost completely obliterated the craft workers, thereby creating a gap in which the artisans disappeared. The purpose of this seminar is to bring it back to life, and make it relevant to this day and age.”

According to Sefi Hefetz, head of the Department of Industrial Design, “the seminar is somewhat of a ‘sandbox’ — a metaphor for a place where ideas are formed through working hands and raw materials.”

The Dead Sea can be compared to a desert island in many ways, disconnected from the ordinary rhythm of life. Ironically, this disconnection from the rest of the world can create a deep connection between participants.

“There have been some great breakthroughs at this seminar, but the main value that this experience encourages is community — a human bonding between the students and everyone else,” said product designer Dov Ganchrow, one of Drach’s close friends and a senior lecturer at Bezalel Academy. “I come back every year, and the faces are usually very familiar. With most of us bringing spouses and children along, it’s become a wonderful reunion and family experience.”

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