Empathy, Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, NYC, 2015

March 3, 2016
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In Empathy, artist Addam Yekutieli reexamines his text-based works in the public space. Originally, the words and phrases Yekutieli uses illuminate daily life situations, emphasizing the broader context of the environment and the reality that they inhabit. The juxtaposition of the fixed text and these ever-changing situations create new connections and allow one to shed new light on the other, and vice versa.
The process documented in this exhibition contains these two elements alongside a third, additional element. The words and phrases of Yekutieli’s previous works have now been tattooed by the artist on the bodies of participants in a series of intimate sessions. The artist then documented the participants with little to no intervention or direction on his behalf, allowing their daily lives and personal narratives to usher in new interpretations. The artist intentionally chose participants living in places removed from the location of the original outdoor work, a process that permits a wider dialogue expanding beyond specific time and place. Thus, the work is a dialectic process of mutual influence, involving the permanent and the changing, the personal and the collective, the local and the universal. Both the interventions within the public space and the tattoo project are displayed here side by side.

In the center of the space stands an installation that invites the visitors to experience empathetic processes – both personal and collective – and to examine their various meanings. The installation is comprised of wooden logs that are joined together in a pool of black water. The logs are trapped in a collective reality that also unifies them. The spectators’ likeness is reflected in the black water, allowing them to view themselves as a part of the collective and its habitat.

According to Heinz Kohut, empathy is seen as “vicarious introspection”— the ability to know another’s world, by observing him/her and the reality of his/her life, experiencing it as though it were our own, as though we were looking inside it. By the same token, upon looking inside, we might experience something shared by a group of people, which deviates from the personal experience. Hence, there is a connection between the personal and the public, which we are not always aware of, nor able to acknowledge. Yekutieli’s work calls for a process of introspection and personal awareness, as well as observation of the collective reality in its extensive array of social environments. This process creates new connections, tying together the personal experience and the interpersonal. These connections between individuals, even when they do not know each other, create a relationship that is simultaneously imagined and very real. It is imagined because these are not acquaintances that share daily interactions, and real due to the recognition of a common experience.

The participants in the project have undergone a similar process. The tattoos on their bodies catalyzed a movement of self-observation. The exposure to the original work within the public space added outwardly directed examination and the connection to an unfamiliar environment. The artist had thus created a network of connections involving individuals and environments, which did not conform to commonly held definitions of groups and communities, inspiring reexamination directed both inwardly and outwardly. However, the artist’s involvement ends here. At this point, it is the participants’ choice to see these connections, and they are free to interpret them as they see fit. In the transitions between the different contexts, the meaning necessarily changes to a degree. Interpretation is thus a process of transformation. Processes of authoring and re-authoring or construction and reconstruction are comparable to personal and collective processes of change and development. Our story is told and retold throughout— it is constructed through constant dynamic dialogue with our surroundings.

The viewer is invited to partake in this dual examination – both outwardly toward the exhibited works and, through these works, toward their own awakening internal experience; to understand the personal and public space that is unfolding before them while simultaneously discovering the world inside themselves. Much like our reflection in the pool, which juxtaposes us with the bound logs, calling us to understand their reality through our own subjective personal experience, the photographs expose us to moments from different environments and invite us to try to find both personal and collective meaning in them stimulating feelings of belonging, solidarity and compassion.

-Dr. Nissim Avisar, October 2015