Gali Cnanni

Unraveling Economies: Gali Cnaani

“I admire factory work,” explains Israeli artist Gali Cnaani, shunning popular thinking that brands the factory as a demon. Rather than recognize efficiency or marvel at the productivity of the factory, common thinking today is that factories pollute the environment and treat their workers badly. This is only part of the story. As Cnaani explains, “I love factories and machines; I know the human aspect.”

Textile manufacturing in Israel has suffered much the same fate as seen in North America, Britain, and Europe. What is different about the outsourcing of production in Israel can be traced back to the country’s original plans for production. Rather than create whole industrial cities as regions such as the north of England experienced, town planner and architect Richard Kauffmann developed plans for Israel’s development that included a balance of manufacturing and agriculture. The result was a system of towns surrounded by fields of agriculture for raw materials. Despite Israel’s history of planned distribution of production, it has not been spared the exodus of production that much of North America, Britain and Europe have experienced in recent years. Today Israeli textile production has also found cheaper solutions overseas and minimal manufacturing occurs within the country.

OSLO XXL, Cnaani’s recent collection of unpicked and rewoven textiles offers us a meditation on this loss. Constructed as brooches, each piece is a curious hybrid of industrially manufactured cloth unpicked and partially rewoven by hand: a literal interface between hand and machine. The new shapes are familiar, but altered. In Jeans Trousers the hem of a pair of jeans, its original width and length such a crucial indicator of style, no longer invite the body inside but instead fold and refold into various new configurations. Sleeves uses two cuffs, the bright floral of a woman’s shirt and the sensible blue strip of a man’s, joined together. The bright printed patterns turn ghostly when the weft is removed and a new tentative pattern emerges at their join with traces of the original brightness now muted. In Tik Tak snaps no longer align, instead lying offset in a row that is impossible to close and suggests a factory production glitch that has distorted the original function.

Cnaani’s unweaving verges on the forensic. Sections of garments are laboriously unpicked, with details such as a button, cuff or pocket preserved. Clothing labels change location from their discreet position behind the collar to become centerpieces. The namesake of the exhibition, OSLO XXL, for example, is a brand name and shirt size filled with ironies: from extra extra large, this garment has now been made into a study of smallness and details. The Norwegian capital of Oslo is a coincidental brand name but also an evocation of the Oslo Accords, agreements dating back to the early to mid-1990s, initially negotiated in secret in Oslo, which attempted to resolve conflict between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. As curator and Cnaani’s former professor, Yeshaayahu Ish Gabbai, explains "the artist’s choice of materials are “segments of clothes that, in their laboriousness and expressiveness, appear to be objects that have endured through time and space.”

Cnaani's materials are sourced from markets and second hand shops in the northern city of Tivon where she lives, as well as during regular trips to the coastal city of Tel Aviv where she teaches. She explains that her selection is based on fabrics we associate with “iconic shirts: the army, blue-collar labor, children’s wear”. The materials available in these two locations differ greatly. Tivon sits far outside the fashion loop, whereas the city of Tel Aviv’s second hand shops more closely map the whims of fashion. But in the final event it is the quality of the material and the detail of the sewing that are deciding factors in her selection. When reweaving, she works on a 4-harness loom using white sewing cotton as the new warp, densely sett at 30 threads per centimeter. Each new weft includes a copper thread to give a slight stiffness to the new weaving and, in places, introduces the color of skin. The clasp for each brooch, hidden from view on the back, is integrated during weaving.

Cnaani teaches students of jewelry, textile and fashion design at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design in Tel Aviv, where she studied as a student. Like so many artists interested in textiles, she cites family connections to weaving. Her paternal grandfather, she learnt, studied weaving in Bucharest, Romania and was then a tool master at the weaving factory Emek Textiles in Ramat-Yishay in Israel before she was born. Her mother designed and produced knitwear and today her sisters are involved in textile design and fashion photography. Cnaani’s quiet attention to extraordinary detail can also be attributed to another influence: two years (1998-2000) spent in Japan studying textile design at the Kanazawa College of Art and Design. She explains, “I was affected by Japanese aesthetics, nature, the rhythm of life and the amazing combination of tradition and technology. The main inspiration was the traditional Japanese techniques. I use them, usually adjust them, in order to create something new.”

Alongside the attention to detail and sense of deliberation that surrounds Cnanni's recent creations is an interest in the fluid relationship between body and garment. She explains that as objects, broaches own a certain “agency” which “creates a triangle between the shirt or dress [which holds the broach], the wearer of the garment and the broach.” Jewelry occupies a mid territory, but here the irony is intensified by the fact that the broach was once the garment. Roles and identities are ever slipping and changing. Cloth is on the body; but the body is also found in the cloth. Cnanni’s creations encourage adaptation and there is a strange an unexpected beauty to be found in the new hybrids that emerge.

Reflecting on the labors of this most recent work, she is pragmatic, but alludes to an internal energy that drives her creations. She admits to “obsessive way of working. I do not always enjoy it; sometimes it chooses me, not me it.”

Surface Design Journal (winter 2013: 12-15)