ER: How does that original impulse, to make work about the place you’re from, translate to your reality now, living abroad and in multiple places, and being part of the global art market?
YB: I worked in Finland a year ago. I started to realize that many things are very similar when it comes to the question of nation states. The history is different, the mythos is different, but there is always the retroactive process of explaining why a nation belongs to a certain territory. There is always the act of writing history backwards.Growing up in Israel, the constant politics is very rich material—it’s somehow a laboratory for human conditions. I still explore that. At a later point, I worked in Poland, but again it was to explore the relationship between Poland and Israel, and the history of Jews in Poland and Europe, and how that affects people’s identities today and so forth.
ER: Do you ever feel pressure to make political work because of those conditions? Or does it always feel natural?
YB: It’s almost a necessity. If you come from such a background, there is no other way: either you’re a political artist or you’re an escapist.
ER: Does successful political art have an obligation to affect political life?
YB: If you can’t change it, you can at least participate. I don’t know if artists make change. It’s always been a question for me, how much we really affect. Because I feel like I’m always convincing the ones who are already convinced, you know? Open-minded [people] understand the experiments that I do.
The “Polish Trilogy” is a political, intellectual experiment. People could read it—they have the knowledge, they can grasp many ideas, they can relate to it from their own perspective. But at the same time, many people took it as a very realistic fact that tomorrow 3.3 million Jews are going back to Poland.
ER: Did that bother you?
YB: No! I think it’s fascinating. It never bothered me either that I was criticized many times and blamed for being an “anti-Zionist” and a “self-hating Jew.” I can take anything. It’s not a problem for me as long as it creates discussion. We create art to produce discourse.