Steina: Playback

Video still from the video matrix installation Geomania by Steina.

Steina, Geomania, 1987 (still). Two-channel video matrix installation, color, sound, 15 min. Courtesy the artist and Berg Contemporary

Bakalar, Hayden and Reference Galleries
Featured Artists
Explore all artists who have exhibited at the List in our Artist Index.

In fall 2024, the List Visual Arts Center will present the first solo exhibition in over a decade of Steina, the pathbreaking media artist whose work traverses video, music, and technology through a commitment to spontaneity and play.

Steina’s nearly five decades of video work ­queries the possibilities of sound-image exchange, machine vision, and electronic abstraction. She has persistently sought to generate images that exceed the human eye and decenter human subjectivity. Venturing in nature and combining imaging technologies with reflective orbs, she creates work that reorients viewers in relation to both natural and electronic space. The title Playback alludes to the capacities of video as a medium, as well as the way her videos and installations emerge from the endless process of playing with and manipulating signals rather than a results-oriented commitment to image or narrative.

This exhibition will trace Steina’s creative practice from early collaborative works with Woody Vasulka to her independent explorations of optics, machine vision, and a liberated, non-anthropocentric subjectivity. It follows her practice from downtown New York and Buffalo to the vast landscapes of New Mexico and Iceland, pictured in the immersive, multichannel video installations she created in the 1990s and 2000s. Containing more than a dozen single-channel works, as well as several multi-monitor matrices and large-scale multi-screen installation environments, this focused retrospective will survey the breadth of Steina’s work and vision from 1970 to the present. The show seeks to both bring renewed recognition to the artist’s innovative vision and argue for her influence and relevance today as a younger generation of artists consider modes of art-making that resist easy commodification and question the place of technology and the human in relation to larger ecological and planetary concerns. 

The exhibition is curated by Natalie Bell, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center; Helga Christoffersen Curator-at-Large and Curator, Nordic Art and Culture Initiative, Buffalo AKG Art Museum; and Tina Rivers Ryan, Curator, Buffalo AKG Art Museum. It is organized by MIT List Visual Arts Center with Buffalo AKG Art Museum, where it will travel in March 2025.

Steina (b. Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir, 1940, Iceland; lives in Santa Fe, NM) trained as a violinist in Reykjavik and Prague, and emigrated to New York City in 1965 with her life partner, Woody Vasulka. By the late 1960s, she began to focus on video work and, in 1971, cofounded The Electronic Kitchen (later The Kitchen), the legendary alternative art space. After moving to Buffalo in 1973, Steina helped develop the production lab at the Center for Media Study at SUNY Buffalo. 

Steina has shown at leading institutions internationally, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (now the Carnegie Museum of Art); Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Important collections with her work include the Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Canada, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Julia Stoschek Foundation, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. Awards and grants include: Rockefeller Foundation and NEA grants (1982); the Maya Deren Award (1992); the Siemens Media Arts Prize from ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany (1995); as well as an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute (1998).


General operating support is provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Council for the Arts at MIT; Philip S. Khoury, Associate Provost at MIT; the MIT School of Architecture + Planning; the Mass Cultural Council; and many generous individual donors. The Advisory Committee Members of the List Visual Arts Center are gratefully acknowledged. This exhibition is also supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and by generous donors to the 2023 McDermott Award Gala, hosted by the Council for the Arts at MIT.