Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hebron Hills goes artsy אמנות בדרום הר חברון?

The article on the Hebron Hills art exhibit at Tel Aviv University was garbled, to say the least. This is precisely because our society is confused about its terms. Two terms, specifically: “apolitical”, and “neutral”. We Israelis are terrified of being political. Artists, institutions, and non-profits rush to proclaim themselves “apolitical”. What they mean, of course, is that they are non-partisan, i.e., not affiliated with a political party. But what everyone is missing is that very few things are truly apolitical, nor should they be. As we’ve learned – or not – from the feminist movement, “The personal is political”. This is particularly true of the settlers, which is why Nurit Gazit, organizer of Hebron Hills Faces Tel Aviv, is being disingenuous about the benignness of her exhibit: If you’re a settler, everything you do, every breath you take – every brush stroke, in Gazit’s case – is political. If you’re not willing to admit this, you shouldn’t be there.

But Gazit isn’t the only one missing the point here: Tel Aviv University told Haaretz: “The application to mount the exhibition contained only the artistic and location aspect without including or mentioning politics. The library lobby serves as a platform for a variety of exhibitions,” prompting me to ask: Why is a university, of all places, and an artist, of all people, hiding from politics? Historically universities and artists have acted as platforms for causes — ordinarily progressive causes, but in this specific case, a right-wing cause. And that’s OK. What’s not OK is to deny it and claim to be apolitical, which in our case is a euphemism, code for “neutral when it comes to the territories”.

It is probably a good idea for certain entities to remain neutral, examples being Magen David Adom and organizations that advocate for the disabled. Those are the only examples I can think of offhand. Everyone else should have an opinion and stand behind it, whether or not I agree with it. In the case at hand, if the university were truly neutral, it would have turned Gazit’s application down unless the exhibit included works by non-Jewish Hebron Hills artists, rendering it balanced and worthy of discourse. As it stands, a university that gives a platform to the right only and calls its choice neutral (“apolitical”, as we like to say) fools no one, not even the artists themselves.

Nurit Gazit, I throw down the gauntlet: I challenge you to mount a genuine Hebron Hills artists’ exhibit that contains artistic works by settlers alongside works by Palestinian Hebron Hills residents. When you do so, and when the university hosts such an exhibit, then I’ll believe in claims of balance and neutrality. Until then, this is as political as it gets.

Cork bathmat instructional הוראות ליצירת שטיחון אמבט מפקקי שעם

Departing from my usual fare here in an unexpected direction. I recently got hooked on, well, like it says in the title to this post: making cork bathmats. As is my wont, I researched all the instructionals I could find online and proceeded. What differs in my instructional is that I’m going to tell you all the stuff that no others do. I will put these tips in purple.

Note: I live in an area where the water supply is the Earth’s hardest (1,300 ppm calcium), so instead of tap water, I collect air conditioner condensate in 1.5-liter bottles all summer and my supply lasts me ‘til spring. Air conditioner condensate is mineral free and therefore the softest water available; it’s essentially distilled water at zero cost. So whenever I mention water, I’m talking soft. Worth keeping in mind depending upon your water supply.

I’m too lazy to insert photos, but I’ll explain it all in detail:

Collecting enough corks

You’ll need 150 for a mat measuring 60 x 40 cm, but collect some more, as not every cork makes the cut, literally. Save those that don’t, however, and keep them on hand when gluing, as they can be used to fill in irregularly-shaped spaces.

I’ve been able to keep up a steady cork supply by 1) telling everyone I know to save their corks for me and 2) scavenging in glass recycling receptacles. If you’re in proxmity to a bar(s), restaurant(s), or hotel(s), you can ask them to save them for you and pick them up reliably.


None of the other instructionals tell you this: Soak your corks first* overnight. Then dry them thoroughly. I live in the desert, so this means spreading them onto a cookie sheet and setting them outside the southern side of my house, where they dry quickly. But they must be thoroughly dry, or else you’ll rust your knife.


The other instructionals say to use a pen knife (?!) or don’t specify. Use a heavy-duty utility knife / box cutter, not just any old knife or Xacto knife. I bought a Workforce on the recommendation of the Home Depot sales associate, and it’s much better than the snap-off blade box cutter I started with, but I suspect there’s still something better out there. Reader recommendations are welcome!

Cover your work surface with a piece of cardboard or some other protection, unless you like knife scratches and glue residue on your table. Your knife will slip. Wear work gloves for protection.
Have a sheet of rough (I use grade 4) sandpaper handy. With few exceptions, the cut won’t be clean, and you’ll need to sand.

UPDATE: I've found that simply rubbing the two flat half-cork surfaces together is usually enough to smooth things out. If not, then I sand.

The other instructionals say to stand the cork on end and slice it in half. Like that’s going to happen – not. Here’s how to slice: Lay the cork on its side lengthwise. Hold one end between your thumb and forefinger. With your knife extended fully, make a cut a centimeter from the other end. Press your knife downward as far as you can. Now turn the cork on its end (the end you were holding) and continue slicing, turning, slicing, and turning ‘til you’ve split the cork in two.

I’ve found that I have to do this standing up. A lot of pressing is involved, and even wearing gloves, blisters formed. Forget regular Band-Aids; slap on the larger adhesive bandages used in burn clinics. You’re in the major leagues now.

For the sanding, I rub the cork halves back and forth and in a circular motion on the sandpaper, which is lying on my work surface adjacent to where I’m cutting. There will be crumbs. Even sanding doesn’t render a smooth, flat surface. That’s OK; sand regardless. Now you’re ready to glue.


I began with an old rubber / vinyl bathmat I wanted to recycle. I sliced all the suction cups off the bottom, put it in the bathtub, poured a few cups of bleach on it, covered it with water, and soaked it for a few hours. Then I rinsed it and dried it thoroughly. It’s not ideal, as it doesn’t lie flat, so I’m conducting an ongoing experiment:

I glued two thirds of its area using hot glue; then a line of corks using Gorilla glue; and the remaining third using e6000. Each cork in the Gorilla line got a big ‘ol black dot applied with a Sharpie laundry marker, so it’s easy to keep track of which corks were glued with which glue.

I let it dry overnight, then used it. Every few days, one or more corks comes loose, and I reglue it / them using Gorilla and mark those corks with a dot. The mat is slowly becoming populated with black dots / Gorilla. With one exception, every cork that has come loose was glued with hot glue; one e6000 has come loose. Draw your own conclusions. Here are my impressions of the various glues:

Hot glue

I thought using hot glue was hard core, i.e., it’s the ultimate adhesive. Yet my data proves otherwise. It appears that its advantage over e6000 is its lower cost. I’m lousy at arithmetic and haven’t performed a cost analysis, but roughly, a large stick of hot glue is enough to glue three or four mats; I estimate that a bottle of original Gorilla will go about as far, and a small tube of e6000 won’t go as far. My empirical data, for what it’s worth.

I began using hot glue wearing latex gloves, but it became annoying, so I took my chances gloveless. Being very careful, I’ve burned myself on the gun’s tip a few times, immediately applied ice, and there was no injury. There is something fun about hot gluing, so there is that.

Gorilla glue

Many Gorilla users complain that it dries out soon after opening. I live in the desert and have opened and closed my bottle multiple times with no drying, so I don’t know what their problem is. You only need to apply a small amount, as it spreads as it dries. Seems well worth its cost (not high) to me.


Everyone I talked to or read about warns of the odor and cautions to ventilate. I couldn’t detect any odor, used it indoors, and lived to tell the tale. Again, it grips like no other; it just costs more.

Back to backings

After starting with my old bathmat (see above), I moved on to some old vinyl placemats my dad had lying around. These were far easier to work with, as they lie flat. Gave the first one to friends; have not gotten any reports of how well / poorly it’s holding up.

Mesh shelf liner

Bought some at a dollar store. The glue seems to grip this material superbly. The only downside is the glue leaking through the mesh. I solved this by working on top of a sheet of contact paper peel-off (i.e., not the (sticky) contact paper itself, rather the layer you peel off). Every two rows, I gently lift the mesh off the sheet so it doesn’t dry onto the sheet. Works like a charm. We’ll call the sheet the inter-layer.

Another inter-layer idea I haven’t tried yet: the poop-catchers that come with your annual occult blood stool test kit, which I don’t use, as I have my own method. Stay tuned on these. If your HMO doesn’t send a home kit, next time you visit your clinic, ask for a few poop catchers (don’t know the clinical name).

I also found some foam shelf liner and plan to use it next. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Gave friends a mat glued with hot glue onto a plastic placemat backing. They said the corks started popping off after a week of use. Made a test mat the same way for my household. It's still intact weeks later, so I suspect her huge, active setter puppy of terror activity.


So there you are. You now have exhaustive instructions for making your cork bathmat. Please comment and tell me your experiences. I’m dying to correspond with other recyclers!

* Shout-out to my master crafter SIL, Lana Reiz, for this invaluable tip and for informing me of e6000’s existence!