A.L. Steiner, More Real than Reality Itself, 2014, multichannel video installation, color, sound, 54 minutes.


A. L. Steiner is an artist whose visual and curatorial work addresses the pluralities inherent within subjectivity, feminism, and queer herstory. Her most recent installation, More Real than Reality Itself/Cost-benefit analysis will be on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial from March 7 to May 25, 2014. The work investigates sociocultural, biopolitical, and familial constructions through the lived practices of activists and artists Rita ‘Bo’ Brown, Carla Cloer, Ericka Huggins, Miya Masaoka, and Laurie Weeks. Here, Steiner discusses the piece and her ongoing radical practice.

DOCUMENTARIES ARE OBSERVATIONAL WORKS. The installation-based work More Real than Reality Itself began as an exploration of my biological family’s past history in the late 1960s and early ’70s, which eventually became a conduit to viewing other subjective histories. I began to focus on several artists and activists whose lives and work have been affected in different ways and degrees by what’s termed (canonically) as the cultural revolution of that era. These subjects’ interactions with racial, gender, and sexual liberation, as well as with social justice, labor, and environmental movements, and with emerging contemporary art forms, all had lasting effects on their life trajectories. These experiences are transmissible over a lifetime.

I’ve been thinking about these transmissions, the meanings and impacts of terms such as biography, autobiography, and documentary. It feels difficult to tell a personal story if one isn’t 100 percent certain of its veracity or validity: One has to address the difficult task of dealing with informational displacement and detachment while attempting engagement with the material.

I’m interested in the efforts my subjects made to effect change while grappling with the notion of radical—whether as a self-identification or an imposed moniker, or both—and the mutations of radicalism, justice, activism, and ethics that took place. I’m curious about the actuality of familial constructions determining one’s aesthetic and sociopsychic desires and sense of agency.

This project has become a platform for questioning intentionality and the relationship I have to documentary or archival forms—a fragile and precarious place for both the object and subject. Authenticating experiences through photographic documents quickly impresses a contemporary psychological form of recognition. Within these mediated forms of cognition, video establishes a further expanded dimensional presence. Ultimately, it’s challenging to understand this video work as a completed form or even as a record—it’s something that’s permeable and flexible. I was compelled to incorporate that structurally and strategically as part of the visual works. Within my own family, I’ve witnessed the discarding of a particular story or the information contained within a story, to be replaced by parts or details that were previously nonexistent or perhaps are just resurfacing. I believe in the multiplicity of possibilities or flexibilities of such narratives, more than I can believe in the stories themselves. As the late José Esteban Muñoz so eloquently noted, “Think of ephemera as trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumor.”

— As told to Courtney Yoshimura