Our open discussion will revolve around the unique and vibrant neighbourhood of Florentine in Tel Aviv, where we'll explore its distinctive street art, contemporary culture, and rich history. We'll touch on various artists, including Kislev and Murielle Cohen, and explore their interpretation of this neighbourhood's ever-changing emotional and societal implications.
As for what lies for us ahead in Florentine, it's an exciting opportunity to marvel at the vivid street art that adorns its buildings, dive into bustling local pubs, and engage with the colourful personalities that will form the beating heart of this district. Florintin will unfold before us as a place where the modern pulse of Tel Aviv meets the echoes of its past, promising a truly unique and immersive experience.
Abraham Samuel Bacharach Street in Tel Aviv's Florentine district is named after Rabbi Bacharach, a respected 16th-century scholar known for his contributions to Jewish religious literature. This street intersects with Elifelet Street, named after a biblical warrior, reflecting the city's deep ties to historical and spiritual roots.
Here begins our graffiti tour in Tel Aviv's Florentine district. At first glance, it may not be apparent, but upon closer inspection, you can spot a pair of eyes painted on distant balconies, on building walls near the roof. These eyes serve as a symbol - a reminder that everything eventually becomes visible and transparent in this world and that the authorities' eyes are ever-present. Graffiti is officially prohibited in Israel, yet no one has been punished for it, creating a sort of tacit tango between the powers that be and those expressing protest or criticism, however unfounded it may sometimes be, signifying the importance of this dynamic in the relationship between people and their rulers.
Prominent graffiti artist Kislev is known for depicting a boy reaching upward with balloons, underlined by a bird at the top. This scene echoes the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Its recurrence here could be seen as more than a nod towards an ideal of peace and friendship between Jews and Arabs. Instead, it might represent the dangerous illusion of a temporary utopia, an idyllic dream of peace that people cling to, often at the cost of confronting the complex reality around them. This desperate reach for an ideal, at the expense of all else, illuminates the peril of blind faith and its self-destructive potential.
A profusion of hearts can be seen on the walls of the Aharon Druyanov school in Tel Aviv's Florentine district, the signature mark of a local graffiti artist. These hearts represent a divergence from the common perception of graffiti as a medium of protest or criticism, emphasizing its potential as a form of expressing love and gratitude instead.
Another unique story from this female artist involves her innovative use of aluminium soda cans. She reconfigures them into letter moulds and affixes them onto walls, fashioning explicit and environmental-friendly messages in an unusual style.
The recurring motif of eyes also appears here, this time in a piece featuring a face with wide-open eyes and a gaping mouth. This artwork, intriguingly placed at the entrance of a former bomb shelter, reinforces the theme of visibility and transparency and hints at a past fraught with fears and tension.
You can see a triptych by graffiti artist Ami 72 here. Named Ami and born in 1972, he is now in his fifties but continues to express himself through graffiti, his lifelong passion, even as he maintains a separate professional career. His signature motif is Lego figures, reflecting his perspective that life is like Lego, with each of us having the power to shape our existence. Interestingly, Ami 72 exclusively decorates ruins. He stands against the defacement of new buildings, preferring to beautify those already damaged.
Tel Aviv's Florentine district, currently undergoing vibrant gentrification, is more than just a canvas for graffiti. It was initially an old part of the city, with land purchased for Greek Jews from Salonika who had suffered during World War I and had to flee from Greece amidst the fierce conflict between Greeks and Turks following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Throughout its history, the district has been the poorest yet the liveliest in Tel Aviv.
Over the past decades, it started attracting African refugees, with drug abuse, prostitution, and petty crime flourishing in the area. The city authorities claimed it wasn't the district that shaped the people but the people who shaped the neighbourhood and encouraged young people to settle there. They allocated a park for vegetable and fruit gardening, and people now come to harvest the produce. The city authorities have even provided training on growing plants, installing special compost boxes, and even a unique outdoor cooperative cafeteria in the district.
The term 'graffiti' derives from the Greek word 'graphien', meaning 'to write'. Initially, graffiti referred only to inscriptions, markings, and drawings made on walls within public view. It was only over time that it evolved to include more elaborate graphics and street art. This evolution reflects the changing dynamics of public expression and creativity.
Tel Aviv's Florentine district, once primarily a craft and tradesmen area, still houses many carpentry workshops, evidence of its industrious past. These old-world establishments now starkly contrast to the new high-rise buildings mushrooming around them, illustrating the district's rapid transformation and gentrification. This juxtaposition of old and new, tradition and progress, further emphasizes Florentine's distinctive character and charm.
The "third eye" concept originates from ancient spiritual traditions, most prominently in Hinduism and Buddhism. It's often associated with enlightenment, intuition, and the ability to perceive beyond ordinary sight. The third eye is symbolically located in the middle of the forehead, slightly above the space between the eyebrows, and is said to provide insight into the true nature of things.
In graffiti art, the third eye could be a powerful symbol of deeper understanding or a call for people to open their minds and perceive a more profound reality beyond the physical world. Seeing this symbol on cats in the graffiti of Florentine might be an artist's way of implying wisdom, mysticism, or heightened awareness. In various cultures, cats are often seen as creatures possessing a certain kind of mysticism or esoteric knowledge.
As for the Florentine district during the daytime, it's an experience that beautifully juxtaposes the old and the new. The scent of wood wafts from the numerous carpentry workshops. The rustic charm of these workshops coexists with the rising modern high-rise buildings, creating a unique blend of tradition and modernity. The district's narrow, winding streets, filled with vivid graffiti and the hum of ongoing gentrification, make Florentine a beautiful canvas of urban transformation and cultural dynamism.
On the wall of a carpentry workshop, one can see a dialogue between two individuals. It's not hard to guess that this conversation is happening between "he" and "she". Interestingly, the talk is about love - what else could it be about? The male lines are written in blue, while the female ones are in violet.
Across the street is the furniture shop of David Malchi'el, and opposite it is a large graffiti piece with a message in both Hebrew and English, written in the first person. The person is addressing God, asserting that He knows everything. But this statement remains incomplete because knowing isn't enough - the person also expects actions from the Creator. However, no mortal can truly comprehend the actions of the Almighty.
The Florentine district is where people live close to each other physically and, more importantly, in the human mind. Here, everyone knows each other. A room is separated from the street by merely a door; if it's open, everything becomes part of a shared space. Here, you can buy flowers from the local flower shop as naturally as you would buy fresh bread from your local bakery. The relationships here are very open and trusting, and people cherish them. There is respect and dignity here, and these are the main treasures of Florentine.
In Israel, cats are loved and cherished. Firstly, a law has been passed at the national level prohibiting the killing of cats unless they threaten health and safety. Secondly, government services handle the sterilization and vaccination of cats. Therefore, street cats are a common sight in Israel. But any street cat that becomes domesticated immediately appears different. It seems that nothing special has happened in the animal's life; it simply moved from the street to a human dwelling, but its posture immediately straightens, its gaze begins to look upwards, and its natural feline dignity instantly sharpens, taking on majestic features, not even hindered by an unobtrusive lattice. Damn, the lattice! People will still stroke it behind the ears, but already as a pet, not a street cat. This is how cats in Florentine contemplate their luxurious present.
Among all the walls on this street, the wall of this house looks a bit strange. It is devoid of graffiti. Only on the door is Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and the prophet of the state, depicted in a youthful fashion with a dashing forelock and a third eye - an integral symbol of Florentine graffiti. The fact is that a family has settled here who wrote on the doors of their house that they do not want the walls to be painted with graffiti. They noted that they appreciate artists and their thoughts very much and invite everyone to their house for a cup of coffee with cookies to talk about graffiti and self-expression and that they will find a lot in common. As you can see, their desire is respected, the walls are clean, and we can't say how many heartfelt conversations about life have taken place within the walls of this house.
It's unusual to encounter political graffiti in Florentin, a neighbourhood in Tel Aviv known for its vibrant street art. The reason behind this is uncertain; perhaps the country's people are too exhausted by politics, or the subject matter does not resonate with the local graffiti artists.
Occasionally, you can come across collective images that are neither provocative nor emotionally evocative. Some face vaguely resembles someone famous, hanging inconspicuously, suggesting an undercurrent of political undertones without directly declaring it. These unobtrusive works add to the district's unique and diverse urban tapestry.
The Pahot miElef Art Gallery in Florentine is an amazing spot that embodies the spirit of this vibrant neighborhood. It is not just an art gallery; it represents a creative and dynamic community that thrives in the urban setting of Florentine. The gallery showcases a wide array of works from local and international artists, encapsulating different art forms like graffiti, street art, sculpture, painting, and many more.
Being located in Florentine, the gallery is surrounded by the lively street life, bustling with cafes, restaurants, and shops. It is also in the vicinity of various art studios, making it a go-to place for artists, enthusiasts, and tourists alike. The gallery itself is a symbol of the district's transformative journey from a traditional craftsmen neighborhood to a contemporary hub of art and culture.
Murielle Cohen, a Montreal-born artist, known for her uncanny ability to capture the subtleties of the human condition in her work, has used the medium of street art to create a striking critique of contemporary consumer society in her piece featuring a corpulent depiction of Michelangelo's David with the face of Aphrodite.
Bloated and adorned with modern gadgets and expensive shoes, the figure could be interpreted as a powerful commentary on society's obsession with materialism and superficial beauty. It may symbolize the excess and vanity of the consumer culture we live in, a culture far removed from classical art's elegance and simplicity.
As for Murielle herself, her artistic journey started in a rather extraordinary way. After witnessing the September 11th attack in New York, where she spent 11 years, she felt the urge to document life. Starting with paper block and charcoal, Murielle began drawing strangers on the streets. Each 30-second sketch, drawn without looking at the page, is accompanied by a short sentence that seemingly channels the hidden secrets of the portrayed soul.
She has since moved to Tel Aviv, where she engages with the vibrant streets by infusing them with colour through her artwork. Her work, as provocative as it is entertaining, provides a medium for introspection about societal norms while adding a splash of vibrancy to the urban landscape.
Florintin's largest and most central square boasts a charm that genuinely encapsulates the spirit of this picturesque neighbourhood. You'll find a renowned cafe in the square, arguably the most famous in Florentine, and the Ahavat Chesed Synagogue. The synagogue once stood as the vibrant hub of life in this quarter, founded by Rabbi Yedidia Frenkel.
Rabbi Frenkel was for many years a well-respected figure in Tel Aviv, known for creating a unique Tel Aviv tradition - the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam). On the seventh day of Passover, Rabbi Frenkel would lead a procession through the entirety of Florintin, down Allenby Boulevard, and onward to the sea. Accompanied by a crowd of followers, they would sing Shirat HaYam upon reaching the shore.
The Song of the Sea is one of three prayer songs mentioned in the Torah, and it commemorates the miracle of the parting of the sea before Moses during the Exodus from Egypt. Today, this small synagogue mainly gathers a minyan (a quorum of ten adult men required for certain religious obligations) during holidays. The sense of community it brings to the heart of Florentine is a testament to its enduring significance in this vibrant neighbourhood.
Florintin is undergoing many changes, one of the most striking being the gradual incursion of contemporary art in its various forms. Among these, Neo-Pop Art is making a substantial splash. This postmodern art movement, a descendant of the Pop Art of the 1950s and 1960s, fuses popular culture with high art, often employing irony and parody to critique aspects of modern society.
Zed Gallery claims to be the principal representative of Neo-Pop Art in Florintin, and it's not subtle about it. Its decidedly European, lavishly classical window dressing, the "banana" wall adorning its exterior, and of course, the rounded forms of a spacesuit—all embody the distinct aesthetic of the Neo-Pop movement. These design features hint at influences from such renowned artists as Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and their Israeli counterparts, Tzvika Horesh.
Combining high and low cultural elements, the Zed Gallery brings an exciting mix of European design sensibilities and pop culture aesthetics to Florintin, contributing to the area's evolving artistic landscape.
As we approach the end of this tour, we once again encounter the works of Kizlev on a large wall. These are band-aids, symbolic of the city authorities' approach to Florintin. In Kizlev's understanding, they don't solve problems; they merely cover them up with a band-aid, leaving them to heal on their own.
But Florintin lives on. It's home to the noisiest and most famous pubs and bars in the entire area. It's a hub of street art, contemporary gentrification, and people. The people who inhabit this vibrant neighbourhood truly define it, making Florintin one of the most colourful districts in Tel Aviv.