Visiting Artist: A.L. Steiner

A screen of women in canvas-white clothing is imposed upon a wall in a damp, musty room, flashing down from the video projector. Holding their construction tools with a masculine stance, they smash into white walls. The noise is intermittent, grainy and cacophonous. One enactor places a hammer between her clunky boots; her wide doe-eyes stare back at the audience.

This was just a taste of what was to come in A.L. Steiner’s presentation and discussion of her artwork at the Art Building on the afternoon of April 7.

In her ’80s inspired get-up, A.L. Steiner stands in front of the intimate group. In a husky and rough tone, she points out the “Mature Audience Only” signs propped up at the beginning of her exhibits, touching upon the photo installation controversy in which a few of her models were under 18.

Steiner openly reveals her unique world, taking us on a journey through her experimental photography, displaying a slew of her work against the screen.

Her artwork: offbeat, sensual, political and personal. (The current generation might most closely associate it with the “The L Word.”) With a degree in electronic communication and a minor in fine arts, Steiner adopts a number of mediums to emphasize her motto of the “collective and collaborative.”

This lesbian-pop art initially stemmed from her 12-year relationship with another woman, but it gradually grew into something more. Steiner took snapshots of women expressing their feminism in the nude, ranging from a coy revealing of a thigh to the buck-naked, bushiness of the privates. “Satisfaction Group,” her first collection of breasts, messy hair and drunken stupor, presented the humility and stark truth of human feelings and human anatomy.

A narrative of body disorders, each piece was arranged in a 3×3 set of 4×6 images without any borders. This last detail provoked viewers, even irritating some, demonstrating the limits that still exist in the photography world.

But Steiner defended the lack of the barrier, explaining how the photos literally connected with one another, inviting us to contemplate the “thought of the formality of shapes, the body.”

Some viewers lashed out with further criticism and accused her of creating pornography, but Steiner fought back. She stated that her work is merely “a conduit … [in which to] express my body.”

Although Steiner’s work tends to be graphic and gritty, with nothing left to the imagination, it pulls the audience out of their comfort zone and confronts the “taboo.”
Her quirky, innovative titles complement the in-your-face photography, such as “Ways to remember how to forget”, “Wimmin by Womyn who love Wymin,” “Ridykeulous,” “That looks really cute on you!” and “Your feelings are your fault.”

Moreover, her artistry is a testament to the extension of her wide variety of skills. “Reformation” shows sweeping morning landscapes with the “pure, singularly forms” of trees and hills, captured in exquisite lighting and a truly refined perspective.

Amassing influences from New York and all around her, “Welcome to our world” exhibited offices, trust-smoking, restaurants, desert parks interspersed with Joshua trees and recreational hiking. As for “Travelogue,” Steiner comments on how the sole purpose of excursions is to look around but, feeling uneasy, she captures the other tourists to feel comfortable.

Before this exhibit at UCI, Steiner has participated in and collaborated on a number of playful and beneficial projects.

For instance, in 2002 she made “Disposable,” an eco-friendly collage of wires, pins, metal rings and the lids of paper cups, presented with a messy but uniform arrangement.

At Yale, Steiner was invited to design an interactive exhibit, which she aptly named “One million photos, for free.” Tweaking the market idea, the students picked a snapshot, each being interviewed for why they chose the particular piece. Steiner notes that their timidity unearthed the unclear relationships between visitors and the gallery.

In the U.K., Steiner held a fair in which customers bought replicated prints by the weight. She felt enthusiastic over the commodity facet of her artwork.

On Wednesday, Steiner was aware of the possibility of controversy, leading her to ask herself questions like, ‘what does it mean to collect these things’ and ‘was I doing something political?’ She acknowledged the aggressive way that she addresses the male gaze which dominates our lives, as evidenced by phrases like “The patriarchy is a pyramid scheme,” as she puts it. She also emphasized her attempt to “extract dialogue” from the scenes, people, or objects she captured.

Down-to-earth and honest, Steiner reaches for the beauty in the ugliness, extracting it out from the shadows while demonstrating the “nuances of queer politics in the art world.” Outside of the discussion, her artwork definitely speaks for itself. When female artists like Steiner have fun by freely expressing what they see,“the irony and absurdity” of their work becomes “the work itself,” as Steiner herself enthused.