Drugs and Prostitutes Out: Botticelli In

In her first solo show, at a gallery in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, Tzfia Dgani offers an intimate take on the controversial edifice.

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The photograph “Spring,” an homage to Botticelli’s “Primavera,” shows people Dgani met at the Central Bus Station.
The photograph “Spring,” an homage to Botticelli’s “Primavera,” shows people Dgani met at the Central Bus Station.Credit: Tzfia Dgani

After three years in her studio, located in the Central Bus Station of Tel Aviv, the artist Tzfia Dgani is presenting her first solo exhibition at the Central Station Gallery. It is a celebration of the community life, the movement and the architecture that make the Central Bus Station so distinctive. In contrast to the way it is usually depicted, with an emphasis on prostitutes, drugs and dirt, Dgani (born 1988) offers an intimate, lingering look that is clearly based on a deep familiarity with every aspect of the vast edifice. “It is a continuing circular motion, such as one experiences while wandering through the station, whose construction hinders people from reaching their destination efficiently,” she says.

Dgani presents works of photography, video and sculpture fashioned in her studio, which is located on the same floor as the gallery (the fifth), but at the opposite end. The bus station is an architectural behemoth bestriding a slum neighborhood. It is a magnet for vagrants, but also serves as a shelter, and has been steeped in public, social and economic controversy from the outset. Despite all this, however, the works in the show do not reflect saliently political issues. Rather, the artist says, they constitute the gaze of “someone who resides in a region of conflict and does not try to make things happen, but lives his day-to-day-life. Thus, the works are composed of layers, both personal and with a broader viewpoint.”

Since all the works are 
thematically linked to the station, they are also blatantly infused with the structure’s cheap aesthetics. The result is “beauty with a grain of salt,” in Dgani’s words. In one work, for example, she made four sculptures and then invited several artists, mainly from other studios in the bus station, to intervene with them in whatever way they wished, one after the other. The results range from minor modification to complete metamorphosis. One of the sculptures, for 
example, which started off as a goat, morphed into something resembling a bomb and ended up as a kind of landscape portrait. That particular work, which involves a process of transformation within the station’s liminal space, is presented in the form of a series of photographs of 20 stages the sculpture went through, in an effort to isolate and pinpoint the specific changes it underwent.

An installation titled “The Geocentric Model” shows 
seven bicyclists, each with an illuminated ball on his head – Chinese toys that are sold in the bus station – riding on circular tracks, evoking a cosmological model. The underlying logic here is found in “the architecture of the bus station, which is related to a very form-driven, geometric conception, together with man’s ability to build monstrosities like this vast bus station even as life goes on all around it,” Dgani says.

Similarly, the photograph “Spring,” an homage to Botticelli’s “Primavera,” is both an indirect allusion to the Renaissance approach that placed man at the center, and an attempt by the artist to document process or change related to her presence in the station. Most of the figures in the photograph are people the artist knows or met recently in the station’s labyrinthine spaces.

One video work is a collaboration between the artist and the driver of a shared taxi, (sherut) in which she asks the passengers to give the driver objects in lieu of payment, while he offers them other objects instead of change. This short work looks into the question of how a public space generates activity rife with values of cooperation. Dgani relates that she wanted to examine the way in which the forms in which we operate structure our thought and behavior. “The narrow space in the shared taxi obliges the passengers to cooperate,” she says, “to pass things from hand to hand. [A passenger enters, takes a seat and then passes the fare to the driver via other passengers.] In ancient Greece they first considered a perfect circle and then looked at the stars and tried to adjust them to a preconceived orbit. Those are thoughts that connect to the big question about the Central Bus Station: Did the architectural structure create the reality that exists in it, or was it the other way around?”