Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed August 15, 1997
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Control, cocoons and crickets

Bell Gallery to display Sterbak's "Metamorphosis" Aug. 23 - Oct. 5

Czech-Canadian artist Jana Sterbak's exhibition entitled "Metamorphosis" will be presented at the David Winton Bell Gallery from Aug. 23 through Oct. 5, 1997.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The David Winton Bell Gallery will present an exhibition of recent works by Czech-Canadian artist Jana Sterbak Aug. 23 to Oct. 5, 1997. Sterbak and Irena Zantovska Murray, catalog essayist, will discuss the artist's work at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, in the List Art Center auditorium, 64 College St. A reception will follow the lecture, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Sterbak is perhaps best known for "Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic." Sewn together from 50 pounds of flank steak, the dress cures over a period of weeks from fresh meat to a dry skin, graphically demonstrating the transitory nature of our physical existence. More often, her installation pieces include sculpture and video elements. Another well-known work is "Remote Control," an installation in which the sculptural component is a large metal armature in the form of a crinoline skirt on wheels. In the accompanying video a woman is lowered into the armature, the movement of which is determined by a remote control held by the woman, or alternately, by a tuxedo-clad man. The machine affords the woman great pleasure when she holds the power; yet it can be viewed as a metaphor for female dependency when controlled by the man.

Both of these works demonstrate Sterbak's use of humor and irony in dealing with serious subjects, a method which relates to her Czech heritage and particularly to the writings of Jaroslav Hasek. According to the artist, "The most important thing to be learned [from Hasek] is that serious subjects need not be treated in a humorless way... Czechs were seldom the ruling class and so a certain amount of humor was necessary in order to survive, and irony in order to communicate."

Sterbak was born in Prague in 1955 and emigrated with her family to Canada in 1968. There, at the age of 13, she encountered a new culture, language, religion and political system. Sterbak's multilayered and ambiguous works play off of her early experience. They are informed by an appreciation of the absurd and black humor and grounded in her memories of Prague, medieval myths, folk tales and the writing of Franz Kafka, Karel Capek and Hasek.

The Bell Gallery exhibition will include five multimedia works, several of them wearable pieces, which combine sculpture, video, audio recordings, photographs, articles of clothing, and, in one case, live crickets. "Condition," which has not previously been shown in America, forms the centerpiece of the exhibition. The work includes a metal sculpture and three videos of the object in use. In this case the sculpture takes the shape of a larva or cocoon. In the video it appears as a large and useless appendage. Strapped onto the back of a person, "Condition" is dragged along behind the wearer, who walks in circles. In the end the wearer drops the burden and leaves it, as an insect sheds its cocoon and flies away.

Also on display will be "Combat Cricket Case." During a previous visit to Rhode Island, Sterbak saw a pendent in the studio of Klaus Bürgel and appropriated it for use in an installation. This delicate, small silver piece reminded Sterbak of the portable cages, traditionally constructed of bamboo, used to transport singing or fighting crickets in Asian societies. Bürgel has since made a second work to Sterbak's specifications. The two pieces will be displayed in an installation that includes live crickets and an audio tape of cricket calls.

Over the last five years, Sterbak's work has been included in solo exhibitions at the Musée d'art moderne de Saint-Etienne; the Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona; the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A major traveling retrospective is under development from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.