Steina Vasulka

Year of birth, place
1940, Reykjavik, Iceland
lives and works in
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
Role at the ZKM
in the collection

Steina Vasulka was born (as Steinunn Bjarnadottir) in Reykjavik in 1940. From 1959 to 1963 she received a grant from the Czechoslovak Ministry of Culture to study, as a violinist, at the Prague Conservatoire. In 1964 she joined the lceland Symphony Orchestra. The same year she married the Slovak Bohuslay Peter (Woody) Vasulka (born in Brno in 1937, who had qualified as a documentary film-maker and producer after studying Metallurgy and Hydraulics). In 1965 the couple moved to New York. There, in 1971, with Andreas Mannik, they founded »The Kitchen«, as a home for the performance art. This soon also became a centre for a wide range of experimental art, including video, performance, dance, new music and film. In 1974 Steina and Woody Vasulka moved to Buffalo, where they both joined the teaching staff at the Center for Media Study of the State University of New York. Steina Vasulka has also held various other teaching positions, for example at the Akademie für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna and, in 1995, at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe. The work of both Steina and Woody Vasulka has received support from numerous grant-awarding bodies, for example the New York Council of the Arts. It has also won many prizes, for example the American Film Institute Maya Deren Award (1992) and the 'Siemens-Medienkunstpreis' (1995) at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe. Since 1980 Steina and Woody Vasulka have lived in Santa Fe.

Steina Vasulka's artistic oeuvre consists of her own contribution to projects undertaken together with Woody Vasulka and of work created independently. While still studying in Prague, she produced short films with him, and in New York the couple again worked as independent film-makers, producing documentaries about theatre, dance and music. In 1967 they embarked on experiments with electronic sounds and strobe lighting, and two years later they extended these to embrace electronic images. Their work in this area was of great importance for the development of digital video art. lndependently, Steina Vasulka has devised multi-media installations, in which she has combined her experiments with the camera and her interest in sound effects. The images and sounds she records, for example landscape and related aural phenomena, are electronically processed for use in installations. By this means she succeeds in creating images and sounds that contradict the spectator's expectations and, ultimately, encourage the emergence of a new perception of the dimensions of time and space. 


Steina adopts a unique approach within the history of American video art. As a co-founder of The Kitchen - the legendary performance location for electronic art in New York - she had already positioned herself in the 1970s as an influential personality within the media art scene being generated there. Up until today, Steina's artistic field of influence is based upon her enthusiasm for video, and in particular upon the potential for generating sound from images and images from sound inherent in that medium.

The work Violin Power [1970-78] demonstrates this artistic strategy: the specific modulation and interaction of noises and vibrations produced on the violin with the electronic image. With optic-mechanical installations such as Allvision [1976], Steina propagates a rejection of what she understood as the »image imperialism« of the hierarchical relationship between passive consumers of images and the producing artist. As more recent works—such as Trevor [1999] and Warp [2000]-illustrate, she thereby develops a visual language, which playfully and eloquently always articulates anew within the tensional field between nature and technology, naturalism and artificiality.

Steina is held to be a protagonist of one tendency within video art, which investigates the basic element of video technology-the electronic signal-as an artistic medium. In videotapes, multi-screen installations, and computer-generated arrangements of machines, up into the present she investigates the way in which the video differentiates from other media.

Steina also continued to conduct her impassioned »Dialogue with the Machine« at the Department of Media Study at SUNY, Buffalo during her time there.



Individual exhibitions (selection)

1976 »Allvision«, Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo
1978 »Allvision No. 2«, The Kitchen Center for Music, Video and Dance, New York
1982 »Allvision«, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh
1985 »The West«, MonteVideo Time Based Art, Amsterdam
1986 »Scapes of Paradoxy: The Southwest and Iceland«, Johnson Gallery, University Art Museum, Albuquerque
1988 »Geomania«, Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, subsequently at Rene Coelho Gallery, and St. Luke Hospital, Amsterdam
1992 »Tokyo Four«, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki; subsequently at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo; Atlantic Center for the Arts, Smyrna Beach
1994 »Pyroglyphs«, Arizona State University Computer Commons Gallery, Tempe; »Pyroglyphs« and »Borealis«, Rene Coelho Gallery, Amsterdam
1995 »Steina Vasulka: Four Video Installations«, Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe
1996 »Steina and Woody Vasulka: Machine Media«, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco                     

Group exhibitions (selection)

1976 »6. Internationales Forum des Jungen Films«, Berliner Film Festival, Berlin
1980 »Armory/Museum! Festival! Show«, Santa Fe
1983 »Women & Movies Festival«, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
1984 »10 Gestir, Art Festival '84«, Art Museum of Reykjavik
1985 »Kunst mit Eigen-Sinn«, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna
1986 »Transculture/Transmedia«, Exit Art, New York; »Video Installed«, New Langton Arts, San Francisco
1987 »Southwest Biennial«, Phoenix Museum of Art, Phoenix
1992 »Manifestation for Unstable Media IV«, Den Bosch
1994 »T'art Festival«, Enschede; »Art and Reality«, Riksutstallninger, Stockholm
1996 »Mediascape«, Solomon R. Guggenheim; Museum SoHo, New York; »The Butterfly Effect«, Mücsarnok, Budapest

[Konstanze Thümmel, 1997]