Steina: 1970-2000

SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico
February 16 – May 11, 2008

Co-organized with SITE Santa Fe Phillips Director Laura Steward the first retrospective of Icelandic new media artist, Steina.

As a classically-trained violinist and Icelandic woman living in New York City in the avant-garde days of the late 1960s, Steina initiated an utterly singular trajectory through art, technology, and video that she has maintained ever since, but her singular body of work has suffered from the Balkanization of the art world. For more than 35 years, she has been a canonical fixture in the world of new media art, a field pioneered largely by German men, and of feminist video, occupied primarily by American women. Steina is one of very few major artists who bridge these two disparate worlds.

Steina came to visual art from experimental music and through engineering, and in fact, her video sculpture has more in common with the musical experiments of composers like Brian Eno, who delved into the sonic artifacts of technology, than it does with the work of either Paik or Jonas. She approaches each project as a composer, organizing her work around the language of music: duration, interval, rhythm and repetition. In Violin Power (1970-78), for example, Steina merged sound and image through two different instruments: the violin and the video camera. She rigged her violin to imaging devices so that the music not only transposed the image of her playing the violin, but actually generated the imagery. The movement of the bow across the strings caused the image to interrupt the raster lines.

An individualist who left the art world behind for the privacy of New Mexico, like the similarly difficult to classify artists Richard Tuttle and Bruce Nauman, and the reclusive Agnes Martin, Steina has complicated her reception by actively resisting membership in a definable group, even shedding her surname, “Vasulka,” which she shared with her husband and early collaborator, Woody Vasulka. Furthermore, she has consistently cannibalized the technology of early works in order to make new ones, which has had an inevitably negative effect on her marketability.

With Steina: 1970 – 2000, SITE Santa Fe brings proper attention to an artist whose originality has made her work difficult to contextualize in a group exhibition. Steina’s oeuvre is vast and varied. The works selected for this exhibition trace the development of her unique visual aesthetic — one that is informed by her continual investigation of new technologies and the structural language inherent in musical composition. This retrospective consists of 31 works by Steina, spanning the decades from 1970-2000. The show includes 6 multi-screen installations (dimensions variable), and 25 single-channel videos, which are organized chronologically by decade.

About the exhibition catalogue: Published on the occasion of the long overdue first retrospective of the Icelandic-born, Santa Fe-based New Media art pioneer, Steina, this monograph is one of the only substantial publications to recognize a female artist’s contribution to the field. Over the course of her 30-year career, Steina has expanded the boundaries of video technology and electronic imaging through experimentation and play that deftly merge electrical engineering and musical composition into an unprecedented visual aesthetic. This volume, thoughtfully organized by SITE Santa Fe, comes complete with more than 80 color reproductions and a series of critical essays that significantly enhance the scant existing scholarship on this iconic artist. In addition, it includes the first published interview–an instantly classic text for scholars, artists and anyone interested in video and installation art–between Steina and Media Arts theorist Gene Youngblood.