Jana Sterbak’s “Golem: Objects as Sensations”

Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Rita Kersting

The seven elements on the ground form a long, more or less straight line that leads to a quarter circle of eight similar shapes. Almost immediately the viewer recognizes a figure, a stylized representation, that appears to have been taken from a foreign culture, a fetish, field markings , or a fertility god, excavated from some previously unknown historical layer.

The work Golem: Objects as Sensations by Canadian artist Jana Sterbak pays tribute to her hometown of Prague. More central than the complete magical figure of the golem are its fragments, its organs, which determine the composition of the installation as objects of the artistic story of creation. Stomach, spleen, heart, throat, penis, and a tongue (underneath which lay the scrap of paper with HaShem, the name of God, which in the legend brought the golem to life). In alchemy, the organs, like the metals bronze and lead, stand for different temperaments, which are associated with planets; and the constellation on the floor does in fact bring to mind a celestial constellation. The golem legend from the sixteenth century and alchemy, which also experienced a heyday in Rudolf II’s Prague, comprise key points of departure in this work. Jana Sterbak’s interest in the body as a remotely controlled entity is apparent in her work I Want You to Feel the Way I Do (1985), a dress made of wire mesh woven together with live nickel-chrome wire, or in Remote Control (1989), a metal crinoline, in which the woman wearing it moves with the help of a man operating a remote control. Clothing confining the body are represented by cages in Sterbak’s works, echoing times of the Prague Spring and the early women’s movement. In 1991 Sterbak created her best-known sculpture Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, a dress she sewed out of 50 pieces of meat—that is, raw flank steaks—and then wore. The almost still bloody meat on bare skin mirrored the inside of the wearer in both a physical and a psychological sense. Yet again, the material refers to another reality, to vanitas and vulnerability. The cutting up and eating of raw meat forms a central element of the myths of creation throughout all times, leading us back to Golem: Objects as Sensations. This object, stressing its own objecthood, is part of a sculptural tradition extending from Alina Szapocznikow to Eva Kmentová to Maria Bartuszová. The experimental handling of the material, the hand as a molding tool, the casting of body parts and the interest in fragments and corporeality does not only refer to a masculine myth of creation, but also looks to a further development of feminist artistic approaches (not only) in Prague.

Rita Kersting has been the Landeau Family Curator for Contemporary Art at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem since 2012. She was previously director of the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen (Art Association for the Rhineland and Westphalia) in Düsseldorf and worked as a curator in Krefeld.

Translated by Allison Brown

Some small objects lie on a white surface in a sparsely lit room with dark blue walls. The objects and a circular small area on one wall are specifically illuminated with spotlights.

Golem: Objects as Sensations
Jana Sterbak, USA, 1979–1982
Mixed media, bronze, rubber, lead, silver gelatin print, ca. 560 x 560 cm
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, photo: Oded Löbl

Citation recommendation:

Rita Kersting (2016), Jana Sterbak’s “Golem: Objects as Sensations”. Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/4693

Golem as action figure (detail)

Online Edition of the GOLEM Catalog: Table of Contents

The Golem in Berlin: Introduction by Peter Schäfer
Chapter 1
The Golem Lives On: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
My Light is Your Life: Text by Anna Dorothea Ludewig
Avatars: Text by Louisa Hall
The Secret of the Cyborgs: Text by Caspar Battegay
Chapter 2
Jewish Mysticism: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem Magic: Text by Martina Lüdicke
Golem, Language, Dada: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 3
Transformation: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Current page: Jana Sterbak’s Golem: Objects as Sensations: Text by Rita Kersting
Crisálidas (Chrysalises): Text by Jorge Gil
Rituals: Text by Christopher Lyon
A Golem that Ended Well: Text by Emily D. Bilski
On the Golem: Text by David Musgrave
Louise Fishman’s Paint Golem: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 4
Legendary Prague: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem Variations: Text by Peter Schäfer
Rabbi Loew’s Well-Deserved Bath: Text by Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington
Chapter 5
Horror and Magic: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem and a Little Girl: Text by Helene Wecker
The Golem with a Group of Children Dancing: Text by Karin Harrasser
Bringing the Film Set To Life: Text by Anna-Carolin Augustin
Golem and Mirjam: Text by Cathy S. Gelbin
Chapter 6
Out of Control: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem—Man Awakened with Glowing Hammer: Text by Arno Pařík
Dangerous Symbols: Text by Charlotta Kotik
Be Careful What You Wish For: Text by Marc Estrin
Chapter 7
Doppelgänger: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
From the Golem-Talmud: Text by Joshua Cohen
Kitaj’s Art Golem: Text by Tracy Bartley
The Golem as Techno-Imagination?: Text by Cosima Wagner
See also
GOLEM: 2016, online edition with selected texts of the exhibition catalog
GOLEM: 2016, complete printed edition of the exhibition catalog, in German
Golem. From Mysticism to Minecraft: Online Feature, 2016
GOLEM: Exhibition, 23 Sep 2016 to 29 Jan 2017

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