Sterbak's work is difficult to classify by medium or style. Influenced initially by minimalism, she chooses her often unconventional materials deliberately, guided by her desire for a direct, expressive relationship between material and idea. Thus, at different times she has used electrical wire, dressmakers' measuring tapes, and beefsteak, as well as more common materials such as lead, glass and bronze. The result can be menacingly aggressive, as in the electric dress entitled I Want You to Feel the Way I Do... (The Dress) (1984-85) or coolly ironic, as in Generic Man (1987) or Standard Lives (1988), the meaning sometimes made more pointed by the use of text.
Her subject is the body and, through the body, identity. Her work explores the psychological terrain between freedom and constraint and many of her structures are designed to extend or restrict the body in some way. Gender politics, social conformism and mortality are all subjected to her ironic scrutiny. At the same time, she has sympathetically addressed the human will to transcend the limits of the body and the power of creative inspiration. As often as not, though, she shows the results to be ambiguous at best, as in her early Golem: Objects as Sensations, or the more recent Sisyphus II.
Sterbak emphasizes the detached perspective of the emigré in her rare autobiographical comments. Ultimately, her work is anti-utopian, seeking our tacit complicity in her rueful exposés of human shortcomings.
See alsoART, CONTEMPORARY TRENDS.