Steina Vasulka b. 1940, Borealis, 1993; 4 video projections on translucent screens, dimensions variable; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Museum Purchase
On View Friday, February 12–Sunday, April 3, 2016
Borealis means Of The North. Steina’s images and sounds in Borealis from her native Iceland creates a magical environment projecting beautifully turbulent images of running water, seascapes and the occasional appearance of flowers. Accompanied by the rhythmical roar of powerful streams maneuvered through electronic sound processing, this four channel environment utilizing four suspended translucent screens in a darken room, immerses the viewer in an atmosphere of exceptional beauty and isolation.
Steina Vasulka’s means are simple. She takes stunningly beautiful yet turbulent clips of nature in her native Iceland, enlarges them, then turns them on end, literally and figuratively, so that they may be experienced as living abstractions on a scale equal to that of the human body. The effect is to tear them from their entrenchment in the cliché so they may be perceived free from the drag of representational history. Nature, having somehow survived the twentieth century onslaught of archaic industrial insults, speaks in the only way it can, through stormy electronic images by an artist with roots both in urban culture and in a remote land still precariously preserved in ice.
Composer, Performer, engineer, and artist, Steina created a body of work over the past three decades that expanded the boundaries of video technology, electronic imaging, and new media art in unprecedented ways. Steina was initially trained during the 1950s and 1960s as a classical violinist with a background in music theory in Iceland and Prague. She came to visual art from experimental music and engineering – two different worlds that began to merge with video and installation art in this country, particularly in New York, during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Steina’s prolific career includes live performances, opto-mechanical kinetic sculptures, single-channel videos, and multi- channel installation “environments.” This broad range reflects Steina’s immense curiosity, creativity and resistance to art historians’ and critics’ fondness for categorizing art by style, type, or movement. Despite her aversion to the often cryptic rhetoric that accompanies the theorizing of art, Steina’s work embodies the diversity, technological experimentation, spatial innovation, and interactivity that have become hallmarks of new media today.