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Woman and Dogs (Defence)
Original title: Psi a Slecna (Defence)
1995
Video, dress, shoes and aluminium
Dimensions: Variable dimensions
Reference: ACF0026
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In many of Jana Sterbak's works, the body does not appear directly, only its traces: prostheses, harnesses or garments that denote a distant presence. The garment is an element on which the artist has often pondered. To her it represents the tension between nature and artifice, between our desire to be free and our need to represent ourselves. But the presence of an empty garment also denotes tension, a state of latency in which we wait for the object to be activated. Indeed, some of her works -especially the garments and harnesses- are constructed for the purpose of performing some action. They may be photographically documented actions or live performances, of which the work is the residue, the trace that refers to them. Such is the case of Defence - Psi a Slecna, a work which consists of a circular metal structure, like an excessively low cage, which in fact is the final touch to a white velvet dress and the remains or central element of a performance. The performance begins when a woman appears dressed in high heels, stockings and a black blouse, and stands in the centre of the metal structure. Next she steps into a crinoline which falls from her waist to the feet of the structure, and over it goes the white velvet dress (a skirt and a bodice). The striking effect is created by her height and her glamorous “prima donna” pose, attired in white. Once she is dressed, a pack of Alsatian dogs appear and, with their masters, form a protective circle around her, separating her from the public. The woman begins to sing an aria from the opera Paris and Helen by Glück, and the dogs began to bark in unison, which turns into an absurd competition between the two sounds. Lastly, the din of voice and barking gives way to the applause of the public, whilst the woman turns to an assistant, who presents her with a bouquet. In this work, Jana Sterbak brings into play a set of opposites on which the tension she deploys in her works is based: the contradiction between the “prima donna's” glamorous image and the fact that she is hemmed in, as we see from her distance from the public and the difficulty she has in moving; the contrast between self-protection and self-isolation, her position of power and yet her inability to relate; and, lastly, the opposition between nature and culture, between the dogs barking defensively and the prima donna singing an aria. Everything degenerates into noise and tension. Sterbak's work expresses our own limitations when it comes to keeping control of reality; the fact that the means through which we search for more freedom, greater power and control and the satisfaction of our desire for a utopia lead us to the opposite; and the paradox that when we construct our "ego" in society, we end up building a wall around us.

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