Cutting edge

Noa Yekutieli’s exhibition and accompanying book challenge the senses, both with what they display and what they don’t.

Noa Yekutieli (photo credit: JILL SCHWEBER)
Noa Yekutieli
(photo credit: JILL SCHWEBER)
Noa Yekutieli would like us to take a breather.
The 25-yearold, Californian-born, Israeli-bred artist has an intriguing exhibition running at the Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv, and the show comes complete with a sumptuously produced book called While They Were Moving, They Were Moved (Based on a True Story).
The book – for which the Israel Lottery Council for Culture and Arts offset the cost of publication – is full of fascinating visual offerings, including monochrome paper cuts and color photographs printed on tracing paper.
However, as you begin to leaf through it, you might be forgiven for wondering if you’ve picked up a bad copy: The busy cover notwithstanding, the first 10 pages are completely black.
Yekutieli explains that the seemingly vacant intro is a premeditated ploy to get us in the right frame of mind. When I suggest that perhaps she is inviting us to augment the emptiness with our own imagination, the artist begs to differ.
“I am actually coming from the opposite direction with this,” she says. “It is about accepting the emptiness, and not trying to fill it. Yes, I do want people to see things in the emptiness, but not from the point of view of trying to fill it up.”
Indeed, while she presents us with a mix of monochromatic voids and intricate paper cuts, she also, like the great composers, wants us to pay attention to the intervals behind the concrete, visual elements.
“I think we should relate to the things that lie in between,” she suggests. “We tend to recall events that are significant or dramatic or happy, things that are definitively more absolute, more concrete. But in fact, most of the time, there are moments in which other things happen, things that don’t necessarily change your reality, or are particularly outstanding.
We should pay attention to those moments, too.”
Reality, how we relate to it and what it means to us are apparently the most fluid of elements. The artist recalls the childhood emotion and excitement she experienced from watching a gripping movie or reading a good book. She feels that can carry over into adulthood as well.
With that in mind, the exhibition tome is designed to help us deconstruct some of the data that have accumulated in our memory banks, by splitting up scenes into layers reproduced on consecutive pages. The tracing-paper photos also allow us to observe a multilayered reality; the color prints superimposed on black-and-white paper-cut images augment and inform the manually crafted graphics.
“I think that breaking something down into its different elements can help us to subsequently understand a situation, or a memory,” muses the artist. “We can’t normally do that in real time.”
Yekutieli feels that we are generally too busy and are constantly imposing meaning on events, even if that meaning does not accurately reflect what is taking place.
She adds that there is much to be gained from just letting things be and allowing them to pan out in their own natural way.
“As soon as we accept things for what they are, that allows more freedom of movement,” she continues. “That allows things to happen. You need the emptiness in order to enable something to exist.”
There are plenty of things that exist within the covers of the book and in the exhibition space at the Tel Aviv gallery.
Between the black pages at the beginning, and the blank tracing paper and white page at the end, the artist treats us to intricate works full of characters and eye-catching shapes and angles. One page, for example, shows two white arms and hands, expertly delineated, with a baseball cap quizzically located on what would have been a left shoulder. The next right-facing page looks like the flipside of the previous page, with the arms and cap in black, and the core of the black area of the preceding work full of attractively accentuated characters in a variety of compelling poses.
Yekutieli is an expert at conveying a plethora of information, as well as senses of movement and emotion, with a minimum of graphic elements.
It would not be accurate to suggest that she takes the minimalist road – her art is clearly work-intensive and demands nimbleness of hand and mind – but even her most crowded items, such as the works on the front and back cover of the book, do not give the impression of being cluttered or overcrowded.
She also manages to convey a sense of emotion and drama in succinct fashion. Hurricane Katrina, Operative Protective Edge and the devastating fire on Mount Carmel in 2010 all appear in the book, and their portrayal tells a story of violence and suffering concisely and captivatingly. By depicting violence – whether man made or generated by forces of nature – Yekutieli offers us the possibility of reconstructing a situation that has been rapidly, radically and irrevocably changed.
While They Were Moving, They Were Moved closes with a touching textual insert. The brown paper add-on was written by Sapir Prize-winning author Sarah Shilo and consists of seven letters to the artist addressing both the content of the work and the method of creation.
It is a charming and moving denouement to a finely crafted work.
The exhibition closes on May 23. For more information: or