(b. Prague, Czech Republic, 1955)
Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic
23 kilos of salt-cured raw flank steak, sewing thread, salt, metal and model
Purchased in 1996
Centre Pompidou, Paris, AM 1996-524
© Jana Sterbak. Photo: Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI
Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic is a hand-sewn dress made from twenty-three kilos of cured raw flank steak. The gradual decomposition of the flesh is essential to the work, and the dress must be remade for every showing to allow viewers to witness the process. Through the use of perishable material, Vanitas delivers a critical commentary on power relations and the art world. The work’s statement depends upon its deterioration, hence the title, in reference to historical vanitas art.
Jana Sterbak is a Czech-born Canadian artist whose practice, mainly in sculpture, establishes a relationship between idea and material. She explores issues related to the body and identity through a sometimes ironic, sometimes compassionate lens. Sterbak’s works are often made with unconventional materials, such as the meat in her exploration of appearance and clothing. Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic sparked controversy in 1991 when it was shown in the exhibition Jana Sterbak: States of Being at the National Gallery of Canada.
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The Manitoba artist Aganetha Dyck also has dealt with dresses. “Wedding Guest” from the series The Extended Wedding Party is an installation composed of clothing and objects partially encrusted in beeswax, many of them hanging in suspended wire-mesh structures. To create this project, Dyck placed wedding clothes and accessories in beehives, on the frames where the bees build honeycomb. She uses the wedding theme to question social conventions and stereotypical rituals. The Extended Wedding Party draws a parallel between the routine industry of bees and the household chores that often fall to married women.