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"Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think"
2002-06-21 until 2002-09-22
Haus der Kunst
Munich, , DE Germany

Jana Sterbak, who was born in Prague in 1955 and emigrated to Canada in 1968, lives and works today in Montreal and Barcelona. Although her work has been seen in various personal exhibitions in the USA and Canada, but also in France, Spain and Great Britain, and she has taken part in numerous group exhibitions, there has never been a comprehensive overview of her varied artistic work in Germany. The Haus der Kunst, in cooperation with the Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, is now presenting a retrospective of Sterbak’s works from the years 1974–2001.

Jana Sterbak’s works inhabit the border zone between installation, performance, video and film. They are characterized by a great diversity of materials and the unusual way they are used. Not only does Sterbak permanently extend the bounds of sculpture: she also makes it difficult to classify her works and her artistic methods. Very offensive materials such as raw meat, blood, lead, dough or living animals occur in her works just as much as ephemeral, scarcely tangible materials such as electricity and electrostatic charges, red-hot wires, heat, sounds or melting ice. With these unusual materials, Sterbak challenges the concept of the permanent and constant that is traditionally associated with sculpture, and turns works of art into processes and materials into actors. Her pioneering work was Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. This dress, made of raw meat, led to Sterbak’s international breakthrough in 1987. On the occasion of her exhibition in the Haus der Kunst, the artist will produce the work in a new version. In the course of the presentation, Vanitas will change in structure and shape and be transformed from bloody meat into dried-up leather. As the meat slowly dies, it becomes increasingly permanent.

In the characteristic way Sterbak handles the process-like nature and special corporeality of the materials she uses, the human body plays a central role as a living material in the room. Sterbak’s objects revolve around it. They attach themselves to it, pursue it, lure it or repel it. Some of her works react to the viewers, threaten them or recoil from them. There are moments of tenderness as well as moments of aggression, moments of the vulnerable and fragile, moments of coarse destruction. This subtly nuanced interplay of closeness, contact and distance that develops between the works of art and the protagonist or visitor meticulously probes the possibilities of sensory perception and clarifies the relevance of physical consciousness for our conception of ourselves. Sterbak uses the human body as a starting point for an intensive examination of the conditions of human existence. The body is the interface between the sensual and the spiritual, between material and concept. In a simple and subversive manner, her video installation Declaration (1993), challenges the contents of the Declaration of Human Rights, which we have come so much to take for granted. The viewer has great difficulty in uttering these noble words, which are the unshakeable basis of our democratic system and great spiritual heritage of our culture: he stutters. The incontestable principles are torn apart and distorted by physical relativity. By contrast, the video installation Sisyphus II (1991) displays an almost amused insight into the inadequacy of human behavior and the illusoriness of all teleological activity. Imprisoned in a semicircular cage structure, the protagonist experiments with the unusual and limited possibilities of his freedom of movement in his search for balance. Although the ancient struggle becomes here a postmodern game, the unavoidable remains.

In Sterbak’s work, the viewer is repeatedly confronted with the central question of the self-determination of human action. What are the limits and costs of personal freedom, where does dependency begin, and what is the point at which action turns into reaction?

Whereas concept art of the 1960s was dominated by the idea of creative conversion, Sterbak pays closest attention to the act of visualization, to the transformation of an idea into a sculpture or an object. The visually and tangibly perceptible presence of material in space forms the center of her works and the end-point of a development that started with a personal or concrete experience or a literary, historical or mythological model. Sterbak transforms and abstracts this starting material into metaphors of the conditio humana.

The retrospective in the Haus der Kunst presents a selection of the most important of Jana Sterbak’s works from over twenty years of artistic creativity. She reveals the inner complexity and precision of her art as well as its profound poetry and sensuality.

A catalogue of the exhibition (about 100 pages) will appear in both German and English, containing numerous color plates and an interview with the artist.

Other works of Jana Sterbak will be on display in the Barbara Gross gallery, Munich, from 19 June until 7 September 2002.

IMAGE:
Jana Sterbak
I Want You to Feel the Way I Do... (The Dress), 1984-85
Electrical nickel chrome wire without insulation, around machine wire with power cable, electrified,
145 x 122 x 46 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa,
erworben 1986
>I am interested in the interdependence of the sensible and the inert, the mental and the physical, consciousness and matter. I want my objects to influence the way people apprehend reality. - Jana Sterbak

Jana Sterbak’s works inhabit the border zone between installation, performance, video and film. They are characterized by a great diversity of materials and the unusual way they are used. Not only does Sterbak permanently extend the bounds of sculpture: she also makes it difficult to classify her works and her artistic methods. Very offensive materials such as raw meat, blood, lead, dough or living animals occur in her works just as much as ephemeral, scarcely tangible materials such as electricity and electrostatic charges, red-hot wires, heat, sounds or melting ice. With these unusual materials, Sterbak challenges the concept of the permanent and constant that is traditionally associated with sculpture, and turns works of art into processes and materials into actors. Her pioneering work was Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. This dress, made of raw meat, led to Sterbak’s international breakthrough in 1987. On the occasion of her exhibition in the Haus der Kunst, the artist will produce the work in a new version. In the course of the presentation, Vanitas will change in structure and shape and be transformed from bloody meat into dried-up leather. As the meat slowly dies, it becomes increasingly permanent.

In the characteristic way Sterbak handles the process-like nature and special corporeality of the materials she uses, the human body plays a central role as a living material in the room. Sterbak’s objects revolve around it. They attach themselves to it, pursue it, lure it or repel it. Some of her works react to the viewers, threaten them or recoil from them. There are moments of tenderness as well as moments of aggression, moments of the vulnerable and fragile, moments of coarse destruction. This subtly nuanced interplay of closeness, contact and distance that develops between the works of art and the protagonist or visitor meticulously probes the possibilities of sensory perception and clarifies the relevance of physical consciousness for our conception of ourselves. Sterbak uses the human body as a starting point for an intensive examination of the conditions of human existence. The body is the interface between the sensual and the spiritual, between material and concept. In a simple and subversive manner, her video installation Declaration (1993), challenges the contents of the Declaration of Human Rights, which we have come so much to take for granted. The viewer has great difficulty in uttering these noble words, which are the unshakeable basis of our democratic system and great spiritual heritage of our culture: he stutters. The incontestable principles are torn apart and distorted by physical relativity. By contrast, the video installation Sisyphus II (1991) displays an almost amused insight into the inadequacy of human behavior and the illusoriness of all teleological activity. Imprisoned in a semicircular cage structure, the protagonist experiments with the unusual and limited possibilities of his freedom of movement in his search for balance. Although the ancient struggle becomes here a postmodern game, the unavoidable remains.

In Sterbak’s work, the viewer is repeatedly confronted with the central question of the self-determination of human action. What are the limits and costs of personal freedom, where does dependency begin, and what is the point at which action turns into reaction?

Whereas concept art of the 1960s was dominated by the idea of creative conversion, Sterbak pays closest attention to the act of visualization, to the transformation of an idea into a sculpture or an object. The visually and tangibly perceptible presence of material in space forms the center of her works and the end-point of a development that started with a personal or concrete experience or a literary, historical or mythological model. Sterbak transforms and abstracts this starting material into metaphors of the conditio humana.

The retrospective in the Haus der Kunst presents a selection of the most important of Jana Sterbak’s works from over twenty years of artistic creativity. She reveals the inner complexity and precision of her art as well as its profound poetry and sensuality.

A catalogue of the exhibition (about 100 pages) will appear in both German and English, containing numerous color plates and an interview with the artist.

Other works of Jana Sterbak will be on display in the Barbara Gross gallery, Munich, from 19 June until 7 September 2002.

IMAGE:
Jana Sterbak
I Want You to Feel the Way I Do... (The Dress), 1984-85
Electrical nickel chrome wire without insulation, around machine wire with power cable, electrified,
145 x 122 x 46 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa,
erworben 1986


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