“Back to the Future” – Portfolio Magazine

דן אלכסנדר אנד קו מיתוג פרוטפוליו

The last time we spoke we were in my studio in Tel Aviv, in front of the sea, and the view of the waves breaking on Hilton beach were seen through our window, and we mostly spoke about the future, which might be my main working tool, in this endless game between time and space. I don’t know how to work with anything else. Since then, the time and space has also changed – I am in an 800-year-old studio in a Knights Templar chateau, in Perigueux in the South of France – and this working tool, the future, has only become better and more advanced, and continues offering me endless possibilities, honing the perspective of quantum physics, of “superposition”- this vehemently poetic circumstance, noting that at every given moment that all possibilities exist – one only needs to choose one of them. This is an inebriating, addictive moment. A moment of choice.

To speak of a future in an 800 year old Chateau, located in the first prehistoric valley known to history, the “cradle” of humanity, hones this perspective even more. One needs to be here in order to feel, ironically, how futuristic this structure is, rising up and existing like a muted witness of the grandest vicissitudes of mankind. The tower in this structure is akin to a particle accelerator.I still recall our conversation back then, when you told me: “You move between total avoidance and complete adherence”, and I feel this sentence resonating in every part of my being, every modicum of this totally within has just been augmented, and this adherence too, and both are influencing everything I do, my personal perspective of the world (which includes my professional perspective). All of these, of course, cannot be separated, and I ceased to attempt to separate them, and these reactions are a mirror of this totality.

Not long after this conversation I moved to France. My distance from Israel became the most prominent move for me, I am no longer exposed to political and social cacophony of the kind I was exposed to back there, today I see that they obfuscate the global version. I am trying to shun away from this, and live more transcendental perspectives. Even if I do things in Israel, I do it from the outside, without being involved in any group. I am meticulously choosing all that I do; it has to abide by my perspective of the world. I live most of my life inside a forest. Nature has changed my life. As I am speaking, chickens are walking between my legs and around my premises. I know, it’s somewhat annoying. You asked “what has changed?” and quite frankly, a lot has changed.

Since there, a lot has changed in the world. After covid, everything became more shallow, and that comes about in our addiction to our phones. We live in a 2-dimensional world, we are used to consuming visual knowledge that is being transferred to us from within a small box that dictates our lives and our relationships. I recognize a loss of excitement for our actual reality. Hence, it makes me feel nature as my carapace, letting myself get addicted to the ever changing seasons. It is greatly felt here – You must be subservient to nature, while paradoxically nature also gives you more control of your life, since you understand that our lives are temporary, and just like a dream, may ultimately fade.

There’s a constant tension between identity and contradiction. As a designer, this, for me, is a playground, your entire existence shifts between what you recognize of yourself and the surroundings around you, where nothing recognizes itself. We all constantly try to characterize and define everything, some of us do so with immense confidence, yet we all walk in this world filled with chaos, which is in fact fascinating. It is then that you realize that our life is in fact a mundane ritual, where we all try to find ourselves in this field where our life exists. It is intriguing, a fascinating cushion of actions where we can be offered different opportunities, be offered the good, create and amend justice. This is where I am, with the chickens in the chateau, in this border between identity and contradiction.

Nowadays, my studio operates in three places: the chateau in Perigord, Paris, and New York. I am mostly interested in retrieving the depth into my world, into the work of the people who work with me, and the clients/partners of our path. Nowadays everything exists inside our phones. This is not life. This is not nature. The phone is not a very advanced technology, it became a tool with which one can channel personal problems. We all hide something in there, and just like every addiction, we of course have the best reasons to do so – work, children, family. I sometimes fall for that too. Ultimately, this addiction prevents us from experiencing nature or a genuine aspect of our emotions. In relation to symbols, a heart is a red icon, one sends an emoji and they are all set. I am not interested in falling for this lack of emotion, I am interested in accomplishing deeds that would do good, that would create justice.

In the studio, we are mostly concerned with topics related to social ideologies. We work within the realms of feminism, racism, the value of life, human rights and equality. These ideologies will find themselves embedded into everything we do. It is not a grocery list of what needs to be fixed, but was rather brought onto me, as I became more ingrained in nature, and thus made me feel that it is crucial to be interested in the humane. In the end, dealing with people is the most interesting aspect of my work. Not to compare it to my own experience, but after the arduous travel within the inferno in the “Divine Comedy”, Dante claimed that on his path to God he found the human.

In the book I created for the Israel Museum about Israeli art, we chose to put an asylum seeker on the cover. In Celine Dion’s project with the fashion brand nu nunu, we spoke about gender perspectives in children, and brought her to CNN to speak about equality and women’s rights. With Gal Gadot we works on feminism and female empowerment. When the work in Ukraine broke, we went to the border and helped house and feed refugees – it is surprising how it can, and in my opinion must, be a part of every idea one is involved in. Through this work, we are attempting to tear the veil of the status quo. The only way to wrestle with it, and with the denial and the unnerving will to kowtow to it, is this call for people to wake up, to regret, to confess. The world today seems a little dark, yet our future amounts to endless possibilities. We are in a stage of Renaissance (in French it means “rebirth”), which means that we do not need to know all the answers. This Renaissance is the act of attempting, inquiring, understanding that if we wish, there can be another opportunity as well.

Our book “On the Hummus Route”, that I edited and designed, received a copious amount of prizes and international acclaim, including greetings from the pope and the current king of England. People all over the world are cooking recipes from Gaza and Damascus, and uploading them. The book itself has been in the world for 4 years, and its journey has just begun. It represents who I am and what I am in our reality, and is looking at the world for a humane lens. In Israel I was connected to a political identity, while I am actually connected to a human identity. I know some may think that these two identities are connected, but I don’t care.

The politics that existed when we grew up don’t exist anymore, we are at a state of a different work, of significant changes. The earth is burning under our feet, what happened in the past is no longer relevant – the rules, the language, our life experience, it all loses grip on reality. The change will come from the future, when the struggle will be focused on the people, and not on politics.

I believe that as designers, we play a crucial role in this change. As those who work with language and communication, as those who know how to mediate between content and form, we need to be responsible for the substance and content that we work with, and find the most refined way to get to individuals’ hearts. People are longing for this change, for solutions of a different nature. This human aspect, that one I am most interested in, is the realm where everybody meets, fully equal, and can offer each other, our immediate surroundings, and humanity, new and better life spheres. It is a personal responsibility, a morphogenetic field that is operating in the world.

In the book “On the Hummus Route”, a new social order was offered, such as a reality without countries. The focal point was on cities, and the people who live in them. It is a suggestion that comes from the future, and I believe that it will happen eventually. The book has been received by the UN, and nowadays we are part of an international operation that creates solutions for people without food, in order to use all the resources available to us in order to stop world hunger. With the prospective changes, world hunger is unfortunately a great risk, and is a probable possibility.

I find the attempts to define Israeli food outrageous, when the word “Israel” has become a symbol for two million people living in a ghetto, without food or electricity, and world hunger might be an actual possibility, and they are concerned with the issue of who the Hummus belongs to. The entire act of the Hummus Route book is to use Hummus as an excuse to discuss real equality. It is not a book about love and peace, on the contrary, it is the mere act of showing photos of children from Gaza in a format of a coffee table book. That way, they’re struggle will enter every living room in the world. It is a genuine offer for a path of regret and change, it is our duty as occupiers, and my duty as a designer and as an independent entity to use the tools at hand to make people aware of it, and stir change. All the talent and knowledge that we are getting is borrowed, and we need to take them and make them tools with which we can help others. It is an obligation that we must totally comply with, and sometimes one needs to be far from the “crime scene” in order to make it happen.

All I do is connect between reality and an experience that exists in a different sphere. It is a game inside a non-realistic space. It exists in the tension between two particles, two polars. It is a crazy tension. I am addicted to it, it is a hyper realism of a place that you cannot really define, because no definition of identity exists there. It is the ability to live and create the unknown, unaccepted, and abnormal at the same time, and only there can new and innovative things arise. That is why, today, if I am involved with something, I am interested in applying this ideology to all those who ask for my ideas, I won’t simply “design” something for someone, since I believe that it involves an idea and an entire perception. It needs to be a concept that fits with today’s reality.

Everything is a play with symbols. Hummus is a symbol, e=mc2 is a symbol. Our whole reality is made of symbols. Physics is just symbols – it all amounts to what is more, what is less, what we can divide and what we can multiply. If one chooses another language of symbols, such as alchemy, then between these sets of symbols, something new can be built. I love simplifying these forms into their minimum, and then applying as much content and thoughts as possible into them.

To be a designer is to know how to play in this system of symbols, and offer a connection that can make our reality better and bolster a change in it. My final project in “Bezalel” school was about leaving Jewish Orthodoxy. There, I explained how I was driven away from the Talmudic meeting, because I appeared with red all star shoes, which, how can I say, wasn’t the normative dress code for this environment, and for being near the rabbi Drukman. There were more biblical sandals there (with or without socks -depending on the season). It was an unfit symbol for the accepted set of symbols, that included a Kippah and Tzitzit fluttering in the wind. It was a symbol of me, however, that created a form and identity that embedded within it a new world, with new contents. Without knowing, it created my prospective path.

Therefore, I will talk about the future, since I believe that salvation as well as our ability to identify ourselves will only come from there. This future deceives us – we can keep on denying it, act as if all is in place. Even those interested in surviving this peculiar time, and growing from it, must remember that the past has already been decomposed, the present is 2 dimensional and wrapped in a telephone, and the old language is no longer relevant. New things are being born, and with them new ideas and new opportunities for change. It is our chance to take part in designing everything that will happen.

In our work for “CaesarStone” we didn’t discuss textures and colors, but only the kitchen as the crux of the home, the private place that one goes to for intimacy. French philosopher Gaston Bechelard calls this “the intimacy of space”. It is your private airport, you leave it and go back to it on a daily basis.

After the chickens roam around the studio and between our feet, while witnessing bambis and small wild boars, you stop eating meat. This, too, doesn’t abide by big agendas, but rather the understanding that they need to continue walking around freely in the forest, and I will gladly meet them there, and not on my plate. I am no longer indulging in foie gras, the most famous dish in perigueux. The goose should be set free. I am also against hunting, and every Sunday when I hear the barks of the hunting dogs, and the shots of the hunters, I am wishing for their death, and I certainly do not mean the pigs or the deers.

So maybe nothing has changed and at the same time everything has changed, and just like before, also now I am unable to accept unfinished things. I need the totality of all endeavors, everything is related to the complementary principle that is entrenched in quantum physics – everything is both a wave and a particle, every part in the conception of idea, society, business, thought, brand is encompassing all of its conceivable possibilites. In our chateau there is a CGI film studio, there’s a writing, philosophy, and social ideology station, all for the sole purpose of advancing the society we live in, do good, and save nature. And the hunters can die.

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