Jana Sterbak

Donald Young Gallery

Canadian artist Jana Sterbak is a quizzical thinker whose objects test a very broad range of issues. Although this exhibition included only four pieces, it seemed to overflow with ideas and possibilities. That she scrutinizes matters such as feminism, the modes of artistic presentation and reception, the meaning of labor, and the quality and aims of modern life comes as no surprise, but the assuredness with which she moves between these various issues is rather awe-inspiring.

Sterbak employs a range of media, materials, and technologies including kinetic sculpture, embroidery, mirrors, glass, and laser printing. Standard Lives, 1988, employs the latter. Here she has depicted a life journey for the modern Everyman or Everywoman on a broad band of transparent vinyl demarcated to suggest a measuring tape of the sort used in the garment industry. Little sequential images of infancy, childhood, courtship, marriage, child rearing, work, worry, and old age, are all inscribed as measurable and inevitable. The stages along this yardstick of existence are no less real for their elements of caricature; we peruse the links for the slot in which we currently belong, and await future developments.

Remote Control II, 1989, is a remarkable apparatus employing batteries and sophisticated robotics. As shown in a videotape accompanying the exhibition, a suspended woman can move herself and the sculpture at a stately pace by manipulating the attached joystick. The skeletal armature of Remote Control II resembles a cumbersome hooped bustle and when occupied, the work is suggestive of an updated version of a woman from a Winterhalter or Ingres portrait. The degree of discomfort entailed in using the sculpture, and the role of gleefully complicit voyeur we adopt in watching its utilization, are important subtexts.

In Inside, 1990, Sterbak offers a more restrained and private spectacle. We peer through a coffin made of light green glass toward a second smaller mirrored coffin. There is a sense of discovery and thwarted desire here, as we are permitted access through one layer to a second that we will never penetrate. A secret seems embalmed in this pristine crystalline reliquary wrapped completely in reflection. In a primal and deep-seated manner this form of sepulchral presentation commands attention and silence. Death is not only still in Arcadia but is secreted behind the crisp high-tech gloss of modern technology, and it has lost none of its sobering power to surprise.

James Yood