Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think – Retrospective 1974-2001

EXHIBITION 21.06 – 22.09.02

Jana Sterbak was born in 1955 in Prague, emigrated to Canada in 1968, and now lives in Montreal and Barcelona. Although her works have been included in many exhibitions around the world, there has yet to be a comprehensive overview of her diverse artistic oeuvre in Germany. In cooperation with the Malmö Konsthall in Sweden, Haus der Kunst stages a retrospective of Sterbak's works created between 1974 and 2001. 

Sterbak's objects prevail in the intersection of installation, performance, video, and film. They are characterized by the unusual use of a diversity of materials. Thus, not only does Sterbak sustainably extend the limits of the concept of sculpture, but also complicates a clear classification of her own works and her artistic approach. Seemingly very aggressive materials, such as raw meat, blood, lead, dough, and living animals are just as appropriate in her works as are ephemeral, barely tangible materials like electricity, electrostatic charges, glowing wires, heat, sound, and melting ice. In this way, Sterbak questions the traditional concept of sculpture as something permanent and resistant, and allows artworks to become processes and their materials to become actors. Sterbak achieved her international breakthrough in 1987 with "Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic", a dress made of raw meat, which, over the course of the presentation, was transformed into parched leather. The human body as living matter in space plays a central role in the discussion (typical for Sterbak) of the process-like character and the physicality of the materials used. Some works threaten the viewer; others shy away from him or her. There are moments of tenderness as well as of aggression. The richly nuanced interplay of proximity and distance between the artworks and their audience explores the complex possibilities of sensory perception and illustrates the relevance of body-consciousness for our own self-perception. 

The human body as the interface between sensuality and spirit serves Sterbak as the point of departure for an intense examination of the conditions of human existence. Thus, the video installation "Declaration" (1993) questions the context of human rights declarations: the fine words, the unshakable basis of the democratic system and a great spiritual good of our culture, are laboriously uttered by the protagonist, who stutters. Hence, the lofty principles are fragmented and distorted because of a physical condition. In Sterbak's works, the viewer is repeatedly confronted with the basic question of the self-determination of human action: what are the limits of personal freedom, where does dependence begin, and at what point does action become reaction? The video installation "Sisyphus II" (1991) demonstrates the recognition of the inadequacy of human behavior. Caught in a semicircular lattice structure, the protagonist, in an effort to achieve balance, experiments with the unusual and limited possibilities of his freedom of movement. Although the ancient battle becomes a postmodern game here, the inevitable remains untouched. 

The retrospective in Haus der Kunst presents a selection of Sterbak's most important works in more than 20 years of artistic creation. It reveals the inner complexity and precision of her art, as well as its profound poetry and sensuality. 

With the kind support of the Canadian Embassy, Berlin

Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think – Retrospective 1974-2001, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2002, photo Wilfried Petzi
Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think – Retrospective 1974-2001, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2002, photo Wilfried Petzi
Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think – Retrospective 1974-2001, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2002, photo Wilfried Petzi
Jana Sterbak: I Can Hear You Think – Retrospective 1974-2001, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2002, photo Wilfried Petzi

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