From Here to There: what the terrier saw

Jana Sterbak's new installation. Dog with a video camera collaborated on work that artist will take to Venice Biennale


Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Stanley travelled the banks of the St. Lawrence River in winter, and investigated Venice, all while wearing his video camera.

There were two surprises at the press conference to unveil Jana Sterbak's new work yesterday.

The first was that Sterbak, who will be representing Canada at the Venice Biennale international art exhibition this year, was not at the unveiling because of illness.

The second surprise was that "Stanley the dog" would be there, as the press person behind the reception desk at the Musée d'art contemporain gleefully announced. Was this a pseudonym for some new art-world star? Sterbak's collaborator?

Something unusual in this vein would not be unheard of from Sterbak. She is the artist who sent shock waves through the Canadian art world and the media and even had members of Parliament standing up to denounce her Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, after it went on display at the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1991.

This, you might recall, was a full-length evening dress made up entirely of sewn-together flank steak.

Stanley might have appreciated that earlier work. He is a handsome, long-legged Jack Russell terrier whose contribution to Sterbak's new piece, titled From Here to There, is to carry a miniature video camera and record various landscapes from a dog's-eye view. He travelled in Quebec, along the snowy banks of the St. Lawrence River in winter, and investigated Venice.

The work of art itself is the playback of Stanley's adventures, on six large screens, each showing the same image, complete with sounds.

It will be shown in the darkened space of the Canadian pavilion in Venice. There are several video segments, about 15 minutes each.

Said exhibition curator Gilles Godmer, "A dog is alive. It's a point of view. That's important." Plus the animal is a hunter, so the work benefits from Stanley's limitless curiosity, at a viewpoint 35 centimetres above the ground. According to Sterbak's assistant, Denis Labelle, the project is not yet finished.

From Here to There is Canada's entry in the Venice Biennale, an exhibition that is held every other year featuring contemporary works from at least 64 countries.

This year's edition runs from June 15 to Nov. 2.

Sterbak's work was selected by a jury commissioned by Canada Council of the Arts last year, and she has received a total of $600,000 from the council, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the National Gallery of Canada to produce the video, promote it, and exhibit it in Venice.

François Lachapelle, head of the visual-arts section of the Canada Council, said the jury was impressed by Sterbak's ability to interpret the meaning of objects. "She's a magician of meaning. She plays with meaning and humanity," Lachapelle said in an interview.

Sterbak couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Unfortunately, Sterbak's success in winning the place in the Biennale conflicted with a planned retrospective of her work at the Montreal contemporary-art museum this spring, and the retrospective has been postponed.

"Too much work for her to do at the same time," curator Godmer said.


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