Projects 38: Jana Šterbák, a provocative mixed-media installation by Montreal-based artist Jana Šterbák, makes reference to the repeated actions and feelings of daily life.
The installation, Sisyphus II, consists of an elegant, egg-shaped metal sculpture, designed to human scale, which rests on the floor at a precarious tilt. Projected onto one gallery wall is a grainy black-and-white film loop of a man—dressed only in briefs and standing inside the sculpture—rotating and swiveling as he endlessly struggles to maintain his balance.
In her essay for the brochure accompanying the exhibition, Barbara London writes, “Šterbák is looking positively at the accumulated experience that comes with repetition.… She laments the limitations of the body. Disturbed that she cannot fly or disappear at will, she explores our concepts of power and aspiration, drawing from intuition much more than reason. In her work, the physical opens up the metaphysical in a contemporary discourse that will ultimately yield new situations.”
Throughout her work, Šterbák has frequently employed metaphors drawn from ancient mythology as well as the symbolism of clothing to explore the boundaries of the body. Her most pronounced themes are reflected in such dualities as attraction versus repulsion and pleasure versus pain, as experienced everyday. She is particularly concerned with how people treat their bodies simultaneously as desirable and untouchable.
Jana Šterbák was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1955, the child of reformist intellectuals. With the Soviet takeover in 1968, the family moved to Vancouver, where she completed art school in the mid-1970s. Šterbák’s work, which reveals the influence of such artists as Joseph Beuys, Sol LeWitt, and Dennis Oppenheim, has been exhibited at Artist’s Space, New York (1989); the Venice Bienniale (1990); The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1990); the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa (1991); and the Galerie Nationale de Jeu de Paume, Paris (1992).
Organized by Barbara London, assistant curator, Video, Department of Film.