We all start out part of a story whose own beginnings go back quite some time.
We know, for example, that Jana Sterbak entered the land of the living in Prague in 1955; that in 1968 she and her parents left for Canada after the arrival of Russian tanks in the Czech capital; and that in 2003 she represented her adoptive country at the 50th Venice Biennale.

There are, of course, known origins, and then there are the others: the ones some people insist on digging up and others invent for themselves. Artists (and Jana Sterbak in particular) are experts at this, and it’s the overall negotiation between chance and determination that drives a body of work. The Sterbak oeuvre does not yield itself as a neat whole; on the contrary, it comes masked, paying no heed to our false, reassuring certainties. And after all, aren’t elusive works the most deserving of our interest?

Taking its title from one of Voltaire’s letters, the exhibition at the Steinek Gallery comprises works ranging from 1979 to 2016. Often described as ambiguous, her oeuvre raises issues including identity and what being means – or might still mean – in a world in which the economic rationale has gradually swept all other considerations away.

In 1987 Vanitas: Flesh Dress for An Albino Anorectic issued a crude, not to say cruel reminder that time corrupts the flesh we are made of. Generic Man of the same year – its subject photographed in back view with a bar code stamped on the nape of his neck – stresses the body as consumer product; or even as itself consumed, if we think back to the Artist as Combustible video of 1986. A combustible for what, in fact? For an artist-consuming art market?

Going slightly against the grain of some of today’s art trends, Jana Sterbak continues to set her sights on serious, universal subjects such as aging and the ineluctable rise of the world’s sea levels; in an interview dating from 2012 she reminded us that the work of art is above all a means of communication, and one under no obligation to be agreeable.

curated by_Michel Blancsubé

Michel Blancsubé, Mexico, 3 July 2016

The exhibition takes place in the context of the gallery festival curated by_vienna: Meine Herkunft habe ich mir selbst ausgedacht [My Origins? I Made Them Up]. The theoretical starting point for the participating galleries and curators is provided through the eponymous essay by cultural theorist and author Diedrich Diederichsen. With the project curated by_vienna, the Vienna Business Agency and its creative center departure have been supporting cooperation between Viennese galleries for contemporary art and international curators since 2009.

Galerie Steinek
Eschenbachgasse 4, 1010 Vienna