Shani Hay challenges thought patterns about design, specifically deviating from the familiar, anticipated schemes of design for children.
Namely, the way in which culture produces and disciplines the child’s world, especially in the dsd by women and children.Thus, instead of light, saccharine-sweet pastel hue such as pink and light blue, her exhibition offers furniture, objects and dolls in three vividly intense colors: red, black and white. Her dolls are indeed filled with soft material, but they are not so innocent. Shani Hay deviates almost criminally from the boundaries in which culture has set the child. She creates shiny black plastic (vinyl) dolls, monkeys with rather large phalluses dangling between their legs, disrupting the smooth shiny texture of the plastic, thus realizing the myth (or fantasy) about the wild, brutish black male with the legendary penis. Another black female doll wearing a large red headband and a red dress spreads her legs and smiles. Dolls don’t usually smile. Moreover, her gaze is cast far ahead, beyond the viewer, elsewhere, as if she were looking behind his back. At times the doll’s gaze appears seductive, possibly puzzled and questioning. Shani Hay’s design is painfully, even cruelly clean and meticulous. On the one hand, her thinking is always functional: she designs a sleeping bag for children, a raft bed, a mobile, monkey-shaped book divider carved in wood, various dolls and partition screen; on the other hand, the design is totally perverse. Its perversion is the fantasy about an ostensibly lucid, rational modernism; a clean, repressing modernism that puts order into the world. It represses the object, the traces of touch, the remnants of trauma, annihilation and time, denying the option of death. It is modernism that strives for eternal youthfulness. The show’s dominant black, its horizontal quality, the heaped dolls cast side by side like carcasses in a mass grave, the closed forms, the silence – all these present, in full force, the second no-no topic at home, especially in the nursery: death. The first, needless to say, is sex. And we haven’t discussed Africa yet, Africa as a metaphor. Without addressing the politics of representation in a manner that has often become somewhat banal, Shani hay simply lays thins out. This Is Africa, the Africa within. This is her story with Africa; a story of a journey with autobiographical dimensions. It is also a type of invented narrative about ostensibly wild, unsoiled primitiveness and archaism, about the possibility of direct affinity with nature, a magical nature: a whale, a boat, monkeys, voodoo dolls. Africa is yet another lost figure, like the figure of a child that Shani Hay explores. Ultimately, it is the story of a catastrophe: abuse, abandonment, oppression and silencing. Shani Hay brings it once again to the surface, introducing it to the home, to the room, to the bed. Her sources of inspiration are many and diverse, at times opposed and even contradictory. With much talent and inspiration, Shani Hay brings extremities together fusing them into a language all her own, entirely non-aestheticist; a language underlain by a quintessential, powerful statement, presence and identity. Thus she presents the yearning for totality a-la Art-Deco, which strove to shape a visibility of unified, perfect world, leaving behind not even a single unstylized ashtray, alongside a modernist pristine, one may say Bauhaus-like, formal cleanness, juxtaposed with the impact of Pop artists who worked with vinyl (in various manners), among them Claes Oldenburg, and the influences of 1990′s artist such as Mike Kelly who dealt with the human body and the doll in its non-innocent facet. On a black carpet and white platforms she operates a theater. The drama’s leading actors, or dominant characters, are seemingly the child (the addressee of the design and the ape, but Africa and modernism also become images here, figures that motivate the plot. The drama is restrained; its cleanness renders it uncanny, almost deterring: makes death look brilliant, shiny, beautiful, tempting. Shani Hay’s design is black, low, horizontal – belonging to the earth. In Africa she brings it into the world, into the history of productive human activity. Rather the inventing, she takes ready-made forms which she manipulates, applying an intricate array of interrelations between the forms and the images, between the forms and the praxis (poesis), and between the material and the story. In so doing, her design also preserves popular traditions of domestic production, of craftsmanship that has likewise become extinct. Alongside the vinyl dolls she combines ready-made objects purchased in the flea market, infusing everything with a new life.
Design: Sarit Shani Hay
Text by: Naomi Siman-Tov