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X and O mark the spot for veteran industrial designer’s whimsical flower exhibit

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There is a whimsical sensitivity to “XO Yaakov Kaufman”, an exhibition of colorful plastic flowers designed in every way by the industrial artist Yaakov Kaufman, who is considered the older statesman of Israeli design.

Presented at the Liebling House in Tel Aviv – the Bauhaus House designed by architect Dov Carmi in 1936 for Max and Tony Liebling, and restored by the German government as a museum – “XO” opened on October 28, and will remain until February 1.

O is one half of the exhibition. It is a field of plastic flowers that Kaufman created during one year of the plague, which is mostly made from the gum containers that he and his wife chew daily.

(This is not supposed to be a recycling project, Kaufman warned; he just used the material with his fingertips.)

The X is intended for Kaufman’s collection of folding chairs, which was first brought to the Liebling House for use at a conference scheduled for 2020, although it eventually took place online.

At this point, the chairs were handed over to more than 40 homes for use during the virtual gathering. Now the chairs are back in the labeling, especially in the cafe on the first floor.

However, the focus is on hundreds of mostly white plastic rolls, each about the size of a roll of toilet paper.

‘XO’ exhibition of plastic ‘flowers’ at Beit Liebling in Tel Aviv, opened on October 28, 2021 (Jessica Steinberg / Times of Israel)

Many are curled into shapes, some are decorated with a bit of fabric or thread, others are cut into ribbon or circles, and all are glued to wooden skewers – of the type used for a barbecue – and placed inside metal pipes attached to simple wooden planks.

When Kaufman notes that he has designed lighting fixtures for many years – “that’s how I made a living,” said the veteran professor of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design – another look at these plastic cylinders reminds viewers of miniature lighting fixtures, with contemporary curves and twists to plastic shades.

However, this was not Kaufman’s intention.

The senior statesman of industrial design in Israel, Yaakov Kaufman (courtesy of Studio Yaakov Kaufman)

At the time, when he started spinning these plastic pipes, he was stuck in the house, during the first lock of the plague, and could not get to his studio in Bat Yam.

He started playing with the white plastic rolls because “that’s what I do, I take an idea and work on it,” he said.

The process of designing the pieces of plastic began as a kind of plague treatment, Kaufman said.

“You do one, and then another one and then another one, and you discover something,” he said. “It’s like writing. You write something that is not so great and hope that something good eventually comes out.”

“There’s a lot of nonsense here, too, but I’m not afraid to do nonsense,” he added.

Over the next year, alongside other projects, Kaufman played with the cylinders and created variations that are not always visible, but exist.

He pulled one out, pointing to a round opening with a lid that matched the lid of a tea kettle, but was clearly taken from another circle cut on the other side.

From the announcement of ‘XO Yaakov Kaufman’ at Beit Liebling in Tel Aviv, opened on October 28, 2021 (courtesy of Beit Liebling)

There are twisted cylinders in the shape of a flag, one with blue stripes that make it look like the Israeli flag – unintentionally – others stretched with black cloth, and another where the plastic is baked in the oven, offering a different perception of shape.

“It’s like typography,” Kaufman said. “The shapes are similar, but with nuances. Sometimes you see the differences, sometimes not, but the variations exist. Everyone comes in and sees what they see.”

These days, Kaufman appreciates the ability to do whatever he wants, free from the limitations of lighting, which should be a functional design object.

“It’s, for the most part, a dysfunction of the idea,” he said. “There are rules and regulations you have to follow with lighting and here everything is free to be what you want.”

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