Friendship You Can Touch

An Interview with Lina Khesina

30 July 2014 is International Friendship Day. But how do we commemorate friendship? Or how do we make it visible? We consulted with communications designer Lina Khesina to find out. She devised a pair of ‘friendship buttons’ that you can get at the moment from the art vending machine in our permanent exhibition. One of them features the word “Tsemed” in Hebrew script, and the other one the word “Chemed.”

The buttons are presented  on the palm of one's hand

The buttons “Tsemed” and “Chemed”.
Photo courtesy of the artist

Lisa Albrecht: Lina, why did you develop this item in particular for the art vending machine?
I had the idea of showing the beauty of the Hebrew language and transmitting it in an everyday way. I don’t actually speak Hebrew myself, but purely from a musical perspective I find it and Spanish the two most beautiful languages. So I really wanted to discover Hebrew for myself and find a constellation of words in the language that I could play with. That’s how these buttons with the wordplay emerged.

How did the wordplay occur to you?
In Russian, best friends are often called “nje rasléj wodá”, which more or less means “even water cannot destroy this bond.” I did some research on whether there’s such an idiom in Hebrew as well and thus learned about “Tsemed Chemed.” Translated literally, it means “sweet entanglement” or “fine pair”, and is an expression for ‘close friends.’

What do these two words have to do with the buttons?
Buttons get sewed on with a thread and become then ‘entangled,’ or interwoven, with the material. Close friends experience something similar, even when they live thousands of kilometers apart. Like the buttons, they’re connected to each other by the thread and the adage.

How important to you is a connection over a great distance?
I think these days we all have friends on other continents, whom we don’t see very often. We have the connection now via the internet of course. But we could also feel the connection to a friend just by touching a button. That has something personal, something beautiful – as long as you don’t immediately lose the button!

a heap of wooden buttons

The buttons before being dyed.
Photo courtesy of the artist

How did you get the idea to design buttons? You usually work as an illustrator, right?
Buttons can be a symbol for connecting one thing with another. Strictly speaking, this is their only function. And though I chose buttons, I actually stayed with the medium of illustration or graphic design – just on a different material. But it’s really the same thing: it’s applied art, not just another souvenir that gets put on a shelf somewhere. This has a purpose and the capacity to remain meaningful and alive.

the artist is lettering the buttons with the words "Tsemed Chemed"

Inscribing the buttons.
Photo courtesy of the artist

How exactly did you produce the buttons?
They were cut out with a laser and had a very pleasant wood smell at the beginning. Then I dyed one side, and then the other. And finally I added the words – two hundred times. I always double-checked them to be sure I was writing them correctly, because the only difference between “Tsemed” and “Chemed” is the first letter. At the end I varnished the buttons and then packaged them.

thethe two buttons, packaging inclusive

The finished work of art by Lina Khesina
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

What should our visitors do with the buttons?
Visitors who get these two buttons will either have a friend standing next to them – because you usually don’t go to a museum alone – or they’ll have someone in mind, their connection with whom they’d like to intensify. They can each sew the button onto a piece of clothing, in a book, or on a backpack, so they always have it with them.

Do you carry one of your buttons too?
Sadly I gave them all away. But if I still had one copy I would carry it with me.

To whom would you give the second button?
I can think of a number of people. But then in a way it’s already missing the point: you really need to find exactly the right friend, the one person you want to have it, because you only have the one button. I think I would send the second button to a friend in Belarus who has inspired me in many ways. She’s a musician and puppet theater director. We’re creating a little puppet theater piece together at the moment.

Apropos the right friendship: what is the mark of a true ‘close friend’ for you?
With the right friend, you can be just as you are – and not someone else, as we sometimes wish we were. Having friends is important for staying true to yourself.

Thank you for talking to us, Lina!

portrait of Lina Khesina

Lina Khesina
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Lisa Albrecht

For more by and about Lina Khesina, check out her website And on 30 July 2014 at the Jewish Museum Berlin for International Friendship Day our art vending machine will be filled exclusively with “Tsemed Chemed”. Come by – preferably with your best friend.

Lisa Albrecht, Media

Leave a comment