Yael Malka, On Limbs

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When I visited Yael's apartment in Crown Heights it was a muggy August afternoon. We sat in her living room, drank coffee and looked at photos, talked about her work, her poster, where her ideas for it stemmed from, and about a fun editorial project involving fetishism. We also talked, for a while, about her recent trip she took to Israel, which inspired her upcoming book Kinneret, and her complicated history with the place. In fact, right as we started talking about it, she remarked, "other than my girlfriend and the printer, you’re the first person who's seeing this!" So now, I guess that list is going to get a little longer.

 
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Yael Malka This book, Kinneret, it’s like the total beginning. I did this trip in April and came back in May. I was in Israel for three weeks, and I hadn’t thought in book form in a really long time. But this felt very narrative to me, so it makes sense that I make it into a book, that felt like the right format for it.

RFP It very feels cohesive in the way that it illustrates a place and culture. Is that what took you to Israel, wanting to make a photo book?

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YM I lived in Israel when I was younger. My dad's from there and I have a very complicated history with this place. And I visited Israel a lot, and every time I went I brought my camera and took pictures, but it was never with a formed idea. This time I went knowing I want to make a project, and I want to make it into a book. I want it to be about the history and I want it to be about the land. It felt very different this time around.

Different from what?

YM It's not even just the book but the process, the way of taking photos, walking around and taking photos of what was in front of me. Taking photos of something that intrigued me, taking photos of something I knew fit into the idea of the book. I normally have ideas I want to execute and I make them. It's conceptualized.

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Like you have an image in your head, and then you make it happen and take a picture of it?

YM This is the most recent body of work I did before working on this book. And I guess this is what I mean by it's very different. These are set up shots, all of these are created.

You said that you live in a kibbutz when you were 6 to 8?

YM Yes, I lived there from 1996 to 1998.

And during that time, did you live in the community housing you described, where all the kids lived together?

YM It had already changed at that point. My grandma and grandpa, and my aunts, uncles, and cousins, they all live there still and they make different salaries, and they have jobs they're actually interested in. My uncle is the head of the mechanic shop. My aunt, she's a manager of the a laundromat there. But you can see the remnants of labor lying around, you can see what it once was. I think it's really interesting to take a look at the decline or — I mean, you can look at it either way — the positive changes that happened.

When you were there, was it sort of an ideal place to be a kid, because there's so much space and you got to be free?

YM It's a utopia. Really it was, and that was kind of the idea. It was really pleasant, you walked around without shoes, there was grass, and trees everywhere, you'd just hang out. You just walk to your friend's house and knock on the door, everything is extremely informal. It was definitely a very ideal place to have part of my childhood.

Then we talked her most recent body of work, which she described as being "very much about intimacy and getting to know another person. It's veiled intimacy in a way, because we don't really find out about people through what they say all the time. Like, things can be found in the margins, from actions. I've always been interested in working with materials too. So in a lot of these images... there's a lot of dismembered limbs. I like disconnecting the body and showing parts of it. I like the anonymity of it."

Can we talk about this one, your poster?

YM Oh yeah, my poster! When I made this I was thinking a lot about intimacy, tension, violence, and how those two things could be put together. Like tenderness and violence in one image and one feeling. That's a lot of where my ideas stemmed from. And then I started thinking a lot about what knowing another person means, and if you know what you think you know about someone. And that's what I call veiled intimacy. Thinking you know something about someone but it not being truthful.

I totally get that from this picture, in the way that the hand pulling the shirt, it can mean come here I want to hug you, or it can mean I'm trying to hurt you. It's forceful and ambivalent, it could mean something positive or something negative.

YM Yeah, and I like playing with contrasting ideas in one image. I also think when you decontextualize it — there's no facial expression to show what's going on, the arm is cut off, you only see the shirt — it leaves that interpretation totally open.

It’s fascinating. And it really matches the words on the back of your poster, Grab Them Back.

YM Oh, this was just mailed to me [Yael reaches for a magazine from a pile of books], this is an editorial, but it definitely fits in with my work. Phile is a new magazine about sex and I got hired to shoot a Zentai fetishist, which is someone who dresses head to toe in spandex. And it was just really fun because it has to do with intimacy and sex which is something I talk about and think about a lot in my work. And this person is completely anonymous. It's a portrait of someone but at the same time it's not.

The other thing that's interesting about this is that usually when you are looking at or taking erotic images a lot of it is about flesh, the skin. And in this work, the figures are obviously erotic because of their stance and the setting but you actually don't see their skin, you don't really see any trace of them being actual humans, they're almost like robots.

YM Yeah, it really fit in with my aesthetic and my ideas. And I got to art direct and pick the location. And so we went to this place I've been wanting to shot at for a really long time called Cove Haven, it's a love hotel in the Poconos and there's like a fucking pool.

 
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interview by Fernanda Penfold
photos by Cait Oppermann

 
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Fernanda Penfold