Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Conversation with Yishay Garbasz

Old houses in Tel Aviv near the sea, 2004 from Israel © Yishay Garbasz

Yishay Garbasz is working on several interesting projects that explore the idea of heritage. She addresses the active divider of the landscape, the inherent political nature of the changing border between Israel and Palestine in The Fence. With In My Mother's Footsteps, Yishay retraces her mother's journey during the holocaust while documenting her inheritance of this personal yet shared history. In Four Generations, a project which culminated from a residency in Taiwan, she explores the sense of tradition and what is left as generation after generation live under the same roof. Yishay traces the process of lineage with her photographs.

Jia Dong, Taiwan, 2007 from Four Generations © Yishay Garbasz

Meinong, Taiwan, 2007 from Four Generations © Yishay Garbasz

Wu Family, Taiwan, 2007 from Four Generations © Yishay Garbasz

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

YG: I am British Israeli. I grew up in Israel until my early 20’s when I moved to the US to learn how to write (I am very “cixelsyd”). Moving out of my home country and learning how to write changed my life dramatically. I went to the US because at the time that was the only place where there was a school specifically for people with learning disabilities. Being around people with the same dilemma was very comforting. And the joy of being able to write a check without help is paramount. Or, at least my trouble with writing checks now doesn’t have to do with illiteracy.

People have written that in Theresienstadt, children drew pictures and there were concerts. I personally never heard a concert or saw anything there, as I was forbidden to walk about.
from In My Mother's Footsteps (25) © Yishay Garbasz

Following upheavals in my personal life I went to engage in monastic Zen training in upstate NY. Many of the things I thought about myself and what my life should be fell apart.

After falling apart, strangely things also came together in new and different ways. I moved to Berlin 2 years ago to continue my focus on where my mother had grown up and a lot of my work deals with that. I lived in Asia for 4 years before I moved here and it’s been quite a shock moving from Eastern culture back to the west.

Chen Family, Taiwan, 2007 from Four Generations © Yishay Garbasz

NP:How did you discover photography?

YG: I enjoyed taking pictures as a little girl. However, after being a photographer in the Israeli army I stopped taking pictures for 10 years. Returning to it only during my training at the Zen monastery in upstate NY; Photography become part of my practice. I went to Bard College and studied with Stephan Shore who was a huge influence. His teaching style allowed me to pursue my interest in photographing gender without any discrimination when there was some from even other faculty members. I also appreciated his general social awkwardness and lack of tact because I like my photographs to be direct. Perhaps that’s why I find myself in Germany now.

Har Homa, Palestine, 2004 from The Fence © Yishay Garbasz

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

YG: Me. Most of the projects I do are about identity; Understanding who I am and how I fit into the world. My project, ‘Footsteps,’ traces my mother’s journey through the Holocaust around Germany, Holland, Czech Republic and Poland. This project taught me about my post-traumatic memory and allowed me to understand my own mother better. I think promoting clarity through different perspectives is also key.

El Quds University, Palestine, 2004 from The Fence © Yishay Garbasz

It was three days after the girl on the right stopped a twelve-year-old kid with a heavy backpack, which turned out to be a cell phone controlled bomb. The kid was paid one Euro to smuggle the bomb across the checkpoint, he did not know that it was cell phone controlled. The ambulance has to be checked by the two soldiers before it can cross. The guy in the white is a human rights activist. Note solar panel.
Huwwara checkpoint, Palestine
, 2004 from The Fence © Yishay Garbasz

I like to take an approach that intertwines my personal background and some political exploration of the modern world. I had never thought of myself as political, but viewing my projects and how they evolve I’m surprised to find subconsciously I’m politically aware…disappointed that consciously I’m not, but I guess that’s Europe.

Other artists are also very influential on my own views about my work. John Cage for example and his “4:33” I find very important. Taking people’s expectations to see a certain type of image or hear a certain piece of music, altering and expanding it beyond the frame of conventionality.

I never expected to do nude self-portraits as a project. For ‘becoming,’ however, I did so. I had SRS or the new name, which I prefer – gender clarification surgery. ‘Becoming’ is a weekly study documenting my transition from one year before and one year after my surgery.

Many women in this camp started suffering from seizures, which might have been caused by all the chemicals used in the factories around us. Only later did we learn that in and around out camp, was one of the largest underground complexes of the war.
from In My Mother's Footsteps (48) © Yishay Garbasz

For the first time, we traveled in a closed cattle car. It was very crowded. There was a bucket in which to relieve yourself, and opposite, a bucket of drinking water. The water bucket was empty quite soon, but the other bucket filled to overflowing. When the train made a sharp turn, some of the contents spilled over the sides, and the people next to it got drenched. We had been told that we were going to Birkenau to work, but we didn’t know what to believe.
Train tracks leading to Auschwitz-Birkenau

from In My Mother's Footsteps (27) © Yishay Garbasz

NP: How did this project come about?

YG: I was lucky and got a Thomas Watson fellowship which afforded me the opportunity to develop my project, ‘Footsteps.’ Judith Lewis Hermann texts were very helpful for my work at this time when I was discovering gaps in my memory. These were posttraumatic memories that I inherited from my mother. My mother lost parts of her soul in those places and I had to go back to collect them with my camera.

I spend one year shooting and almost 3 years editing. Starting in 2004 the book came out in 2009…

Meinong, Taiwan, 2007 from Four Generations © Yishay Garbasz

NP: What's next?

YG: Working on the installation of both ‘Footsteps’ and ‘Becoming’ for the next Busan Biennale. The flip book for ‘Becoming’ will be out in July (Mark Batty Publisher). There are several projects on the backburner that I’m continually writing grant applications to develop them further. Also, I’m in the process of finding a gallery in New York to show at.

Thank you Yishay. For more images, please visit

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