The NY Exhibition Examining Identity and Intimacy with T-Shirts and Cake

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Untitled (On top of, on top of)
Courtesy of Yael Malka

Yael Malka uses found notes, overheard expressions and her own visceral photographs in a show examining messaging, identity and modern interactions

Yael Malka’s work is at times hilarious, always beguiling, frequently touching, and brilliantly executed. She works as a photographer, but recently took a leap (partly) away from the lens for a show currently running at New York’s Rubber Factory that explores ideas around intimacy, identity, language and etymology, and the passage of time.

Her gorgeous photographic works often have an inherently sculptural quality thanks to her use of texture: a Vaseline-encased foot has a deliciously strange, somewhat Lynchian quality that leaps out from the frame, while her unusual use of perspective and framing makes for a cinematic, tactile aesthetic. In her newest ventures into actual, physical sculpture, Malka has created a series of T-shirts bearing the baffling statements on those found in non-English speaking countries, phrases she’s jotted down on her travels (mostly in Japan and the Middle East) and recreated in colours and fonts that playfully spar with the sentiments they clunkily espouse. These hang eerily around and above a couple of cakes, which bear edible scans of notes the artist has found discarded around New York.

Together, they offer a sweet (sometimes very literally) portrait of what it means to be a person in a confusing and frequently isolating world: the messages we send, the identities we form, our often clumsy yet frequently heartfelt interactions. Malka tells us more below.

On the title, Almost Touching
“In the images there’s a lot of moments in which there are two people in a photograph that are almost touching but not quite: there’s an interaction between them, but it’s kind of ambiguous what’s happening. It’s about concealment and repetition, and how people reveal themselves to others, and what authenticity is to a person’s identity. Almost Touching is a comment on that, and what getting to authenticity or being your truest self means: the title is based on the conceptual aspect, and also the aesthetic details in the actual photographs.”

On the move into sculpture…
“For a long time after school [at Pratt, New York] I was only thinking in photography, and thinking that’s the only medium I can make work in, or that’s acceptable – if I were to branch out there was a guilt around it. I had to unlearn that rigidness to make work freely in whatever medium I wanted. Some of my ideas don’t necessary translate to photography – they wouldn’t come across as well or interestingly as it would with sculptures. But the sculptures in the show aren’t far from photographs, the papers on the cakes are technically photographs, as I scanned them; and the shirts are a way of recording information and transferring it. So you can play with the medium and place it where you want to – you can call a shirt a photograph.”

On being curious...
“I’m very observant when I’m out in the world and very curious, and I wanted to bring that curiosity into the show and bring my findings from my day to day like the daily ephemera I collect and record. It talks about identity and fleeting moments – using sculpture was a great way to do that.

“I definitely look like a crazy person going and picking up every bit of paper I see: it ranges from children’s homework and drawings to food shopping lists to religious texts or personal things that I don’t really understand, as I’m not the person it was meant for and I don’t understand the context of that relationship. Those are what I find really interesting.

“I find a lot of intimate things. People don’t really write any more with a pen or paper – it feels like a special thing, it’s like a little relic of the past, a time capsule.”

On participation…
“There’s an erasure aspect to the cake; it disintegrates as the show goes on, so I wanted a participatory interactive element like how I experienced it in the real world. They’re placed very low to the ground, so you have to bend down to cut yourself a piece, which mimics how I found them.

“With the T-shirts, they’re hung from different heights and different angles so it’s creating that feeling of walking through a street and passing people. As the viewer walks though the space they conceal and reveal some of the photos, which reflects the ideas in the photographs.”

Yael Malka, Almost Touching is on show at Rubber Factory, New York, until April 18, 2018.