While art and religion have established a continuous relationship that dates back thousands of years, the dialogue between contemporary design and the latter system is still being explored nonstop due to the constant transformation of political and cultural exchanges. In design, specifically architecture, modern religious monuments are influenced by modern contexts to then become frameworks with decorative motifs and recognisable structures that simply act as signifiers for their building functions. Therefore, the act of simplifying poses the question of representations versus functions for designers alike, especially for smaller scales of designed materials such as products and furniture. Then what is the focus of minimalist religious designs at said scale?
To tackle the issue’s ongoing political aspect is a rather complicated process; therefore, many designers have chosen to extract the essence of religions in everyday life to incorporate into their work. With the idea of essential religious objects, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem had commissioned many designers for a collective exhibition under the name To Go - New Designs for Jewish Ritual Objects to be held on 28 March to 05 October 2018. Amongst a portable chuppah, a matzah-making kit, objects for the Havdala ceremony, and many more, is a traveling kit for Shabbat feast designed by Sebastian Bergne. We highlight this particular design because of its lack of adornments, with which we often associate Judaism, and its contemporary aesthetic.
Shabbat is Judaism’s day of rest and it occurs every seventh day of the week. Observing Shabbat, Jews refrain from practicing strenuous activities and engage in spiritual tranquility from Friday at sunset to the following evening after nightfall. As a weekly ritual, the Digital Shabbat by Sebastian Bergne is a modular design for ease of dismantling before use and re-assembling after the feast is completed.
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Digital Shabbat is a 3-D printed white box with rounded edges and a subtle pattern comprised of lines. Consisting of candles, glass candle holders, a tall wine glass, and a digitally printed bread cloth, each component’s proportion and size are based off of a series of significant numbers. For instance, the bread cloth’s pattern is made of 5 red stripes, 12 blue stripes, and 72 radial beige lines. This cotton cloth is to be used right before the festive meal begins, following the lighting of two candles inside shock and heat resistant laboratory glass holders. After prayers, the wine glass is filled to the brim and then passed around for people present at the table.
The compact design speaks of today’s modern society where speediness and efficiency are required. However, Sebastian’s choice of giving Digital Shabbat a minimalist appearance is not a modernist decision, but rather a symbolic one—an appreciation of God in Judaism, to my interpretation. Here, God does not have a definite form or figure; God is simply referred to as HaShem, literally the Name; hence the all white façade of the design. While the design’s functional aesthetic is apparent, its representative counterpart is figurative; Sebastian Bergne is successful in translating that thinking into the execution.
To then respond to my own question: What is the focus of minimalist religious designs at smaller scales?
The answer is rather straightforward: The humane qualities embedded in everyday life’s religious practice.