The White City of Found Objects

I’m slowly learning that in Tel Aviv, if you haven’t found something, it simply means you haven’t looked hard enough.

By DEBORAH S. DANAN
December 22, 2011 18:58
White City 521

White City 521. (photo credit: Deborah Danan)

 
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So here’s an interesting fact: 51% of Tel Aviv residents admit that over 80% of their furniture were objects found in the street.

Even if you believe that 96.4% of statistics are made up on the spot, you need only take a meander around the streets of Tel Aviv to discover that it is indeed the city of Found Objects.

It is a city where one can find a stuffed chicken relaxing on an orange leather sofa - carelessly thrown out by some recently-converted vegan. A city where a bowling ball and a stack of men's shirts anxiously await side by side next to the trash cans for some unassuming passerby to claim ownership.

For the interests of introducing my love of art, allow me to digress for a moment with an anecdote: The Bauhaus school, known as the House of Construction, was founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. This was around the same time the movement of Found Art (known also as Found Objects, objet trouvé) emerged following the unveiling Marcel Duchamps' piece-de-résistance, Fountain, 2 years earlier. Fountain was in fact a urinal that was allegedly thrown out as rubbish.

Bauhaus attempted to combine crafts and construction with fine art and its host of famous lecturers includes the German-Jewish artists, Josef Albers and his wife Anni. Josef produced his first great works during his tenure at Bauhaus, and these are heavily influenced by the Found Art movement. For her part, Anni Albers was famed for going out in public wearing Found Objects in lieu of jewelry, such as plumbers’ tools.

You don't have to be a culture vulture to know that Tel Aviv is famous for Bauhaus. In fact, with 4000 buildings, theWhite City has the largest number of Bauhaus buildings of any city in the world. I'd rather like to think that if Josef and Anni were alive today, they would most certainly want to make aliya to the White City of Found Objects.

But it isn't just avant-garde artists that have made their fortunes through Found Objects. Take Youssef, for example. A native of neighboring Jaffa, Youssef makes the trip to Tel Aviv everyday on no less than a donkey-driven wagon. Armed with an old-fashioned bell and eyebrows that would give Groucho Marx a run for his money, Youssef rides his wagon through the streets ringing the bell.



And for whom does Youssef's bell toll?

Anyone who has anything to throw out of course. Youssef is one of many Found Object collectors, most of whom resell their findings to thrift shops in the flea market south of the city.  And as his over-burdened donkey will note, Youssef's career is burgeoning.

In fact, the phenomenon of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new is so prevalent here, there isn't a day that passes where I don't come across a couch on the pavement where I can sit and rest my weary legs.

But my real experiences with Found Objects leads me back to something I mentioned in my first article - Tel Aviv's latent spirituality. Although I like to consider myself as being spiritually connected, I've never been one of those people who believe that if you wish or pray enough for something, the universe will somehow see to it that the object of your affection is delivered to you. It simply never struck me as possible that you could be a winner just by focusing on winning.

At least, that's what I thought until the day I moved to Tel Aviv when, with express home delivery, the universe Fed-Ex'ed the object of my desire.

When I finally got into bed in my new apartment, I thought I would die of heat. Anyone who has been to Tel Aviv when the weather is anything but very cold can appreciate how hot and bothered - and damp – I was that night. I lay awake wondering where I could buy a fan. Should I buy it locally or should I wait until I go on one of my regular excursions to Jerusalem, where no doubt it would cost a third of the price?

A minute later, I decided that the heat was so unbearable I would have to bite the bullet and buy a fan the next day in my area of Rip-Off Central, otherwise known as North Tel Aviv. A minute after that, upon noticing that due to the heat my nail polish had melted all over my linen, I clambered out of bed and downstairs for a breath of stale air.

I almost fainted when I got outside, and it wasn’t from the heat.

If you recently encountered a girl hugging a fan on the street, chances are it was me.  Even the nerdiest of engineers don't get as excited over an electrical appliance as I was that night. It was, of course, in pristine condition and right outside my doorstep. After I had transported my new fan to its new home, I got into bed and within moments I was lulled by its melodious whirr into the most glorious sleep.

But that isn’t all: Two days later, it was a Friday night and I came home to find that someone had wrecked my zula. I constructed the zula (or chilling area) on the grounds of the building for the purposes of catching the sun or for the benefit of friends who are smokers (sadly my apartment has no balcony).

There is a homeless man who lives in my building in a stone storage room (and whom I'm sure will cameo in future articles) and I had my suspicions that perhaps he was to blame. Perhaps he drank a little more than usual and took out his aggression on my couch. Either way, my little table was broken - as was my couch (incidentally, I had found the couch not long before that in a nearby street and had dragged it home). The table looked fixable but the couch was a goner.

I went to bed more than a little crestfallen. The next day, I arrived home to find 2 men standing in the stairwell holding up a couch. Other than being amused by their repeated attempts to bring the couch down the stairs while in my head I heard Ross from Friends yell "pivot!", I was bowled over by the extraordinary facts of the scene unfolding in front of my eyes.

I had just had my couch destroyed either by an inebriated homeless guy or a herd of Spanish bulls, and here were these fellows on the stairs – clearly throwing out their own couch. 

I asked them as much and when they answered in the affirmative, I showed them where the zula was and where to position it. This time, I didn't have to lift a finger to get a "new" couch.

The final Found Object story happened a few weeks later. A friend of mine had promised to bring me some old bookshelves, but due to time constraints he never made it to Tel Aviv. My own financial incapacity meant that a trip to Ikea to buy a bookcase wouldn't exactly have been responsible. The grip on my friend's time and my own wallet meant that boxes of books cluttered my living room for weeks. Eventually, they irked me enough into forcing me to surrender to the Swedish Promised Land of furniture. I messaged my friend, thanking him for his kind offer to bring me his shelves, but explaining that tomorrow I would buy a bookcase because I couldn't wait any longer.


Less than a half hour later, I went outside and lo, what was waiting there for me by the trash cans?

A papier-mâchéd giraffe of gargantuan proportions.

Not really. But there was a bookshelf - complete with storage cupboard - that was just large enough to house all of my books.

I called another friend and breathlessly related my three Found Objects experiences. I told her I want to write a book on it, "exposing" how the laws of attraction that operate in this world means that if you want something bad enough, you might just get it. It could be a New York Times bestseller and I could make millions.

Alas I'm told that apparently somebody already did.

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