Interview with Yishay Garbasz
Yishay Garbasz was born in 1970 and studied photography at Bard College in New York. She is a Berlin-based British-Israeli artist whose work delves deeply into social and political issues of identity, agency, human rights, and the construction of gender. She has exhibited widely in solo shows in galleries, museums, and photography festivals around the world. “Becoming” , a project in which Yisha photographed herself as a standing nude, every week, over the entire course of her SRS, was installed as a zoetrope with 28 images in the 2010 Busan Biennale in Korea. “Becoming” is also available as a flipbook. Garbasz’s “In My Mother’s Footsteps” (Hatje Cantz, 2009), a riveting contemporary journey through her mother’s survival of the Holocaust, was nominated for the German photo book prize and exhibited at Wako Works of Art, Ronald Feldman Fine Art, Norderlicht fotofestival, Chiang Mai Museum of Art, and Tokyo Wonder Site. http://www.yishay.com
YISHAY: I’ve never given an interview specifically like this. I refused to do it in the past because I am not a trans woman. Another reason that I am weary of this kind of language is something learned from the disability movement experience with language: the usage of “disabled person” versus “person with a disability”, where a disability is only a single attribute of the person rather then a qualifier for personhood. “Trans woman” makes the ‘trans’ the bigger aspect and ‘woman’ the smaller aspect. I can only speak about my current understanding of myself. I don’t philosophise about gender because this is not my strength, my strength is making work, part of which is understanding myself better.
Yishay Garbasz is the 2013 Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Artist-in-Residence. For the month of April 2013, Yisha will be visiting New York, Boston and surrounding areas to meet and photograph Jewish women of trans experience. Her month-long residency at the Women’s Studies Research Center will culminate in a multimedia exhibition of photographs, video and text generated during the residency. Through interviews and portraits, Garbasz will celebrate a segment of the Jewish population that has been little discussed until recently, showing her subjects with their loved ones and families, at their jobs, or in their homes. The exhibition will immediately follow and be on view for a minimum of six weeks at the Kniznick Gallery at the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) at Brandeis University. If you would like to be part of this project, please contact “Ms. Yishay Garbasz” <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
YISHAY: I learned to write at age 25 at Landmark College in the U.S. It’s a tiny tiny college. They pretty much did the impossible thing and taught me how to write. I still have horrible struggles with writing, but stuff actually does come out, however painfully and slowly, in spite of my dyslexia. Which is why it’s totally awesome and cool and still blows my mind the fact that I have two books published. Isn’t that crazy? …I struggle for words. That’s why I’m a visual artist. That’s before anyone told me that being a visual artist is all about writing applications. (laughs)
TOBARON: At your recent opening at Ron Feldman Gallery NYC, I remarked that with both “Becoming” (2008-2010), your zoetrope series of selfportraits before and after gender clarification surgery and “Eat Me, Damien” (2010), by displaying your formaldehyde protected testicles in the gallery, you have done something that many transpeople might have imagined allegorically, or even joked about – but you’ve actualized the punchline and enacted it.
YISHAY: The “Eat Me Damien” piece is really about addressing Damien Hirst and his contemporaries that do this kind of conceptual art, more of an aggressive business model to art making.
What I’m suggesting is that I can use the same conceptual framework, but make a personal artwork and at the same time laugh at them, or point a sarcastic eye at them or whatever. Mostly, it’s a social critique. The piece looks at predatory art practices, predatory commercial practices. There’s a lot of this type of conceptual art making, and this piece is intended, designed and inspired to make you think about that.
TOBARON: Yep! I’ve been calling them your ‘kreplach’.
YISHAY: (Laughs) Humour and sarcasm are very lovely tools to use for this end.
I display it in a gallery and museums, so my assumption is a certain level of familiarity with fine art practices. It’s a reference to Damien Hirst’s shark piece, but also a reference to Duchamps as well: readymades. In the beginning I thought of a lot of things to do with the testicles, and slowly I started letting go of the idea of doing anything and realized they are already ‘done’ by themselves. They are complete and lacking nothing by themselves. The political aspect of them became more and more apparent, that made it correct.
TOBARON: So, have you had any feedback from Damien Hirst ?
YISHAY: Well, no I haven’t brought it to his attention, I was too busy.
TOBARON: Right. (laughs)