lives in Montreal (Canada) and Barcelona (Spain).

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 she 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 more 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. That same year she created Generic Man - a photograph of a man’s shaved head seen from the back, in which everything appears normal until the viewer notices the bar code apparently carved or tattooed in his neck. Jana Sterbak creates works that both amuse and challenge us. She wants us to stop and think. Almost unnoticed, she leads our thoughts into themes such as the relationship between private and public, seduction and force, or man and machine.

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. She 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 actions. What are the limits and costs of personal freedom, where does dependency begin, and what is the point at which action turns into reaction? 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.

In 1995 Belgian audio-visual artist Ana Torfs (°1963) made the video Condition, based on a sculpture by Jana Sterbak. 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, it is dragged along behind the wearer who walks in circles getting nowhere. In the end the wearer drops this burden and leaves it behind, as an insect sheds it cocoon and flies away.