Renee Zettle-Sterling

Life Dates:
b. 1970
Artist Biography:
"The power that objects hold, whether remembered or experienced physically, is overwhelming and its constructed meaning never fixed. Objects from our daily lives are reflections of us as well as extensions of the body; we make our material world familiar through the use of such personal accouterments. I am interested in how one’s self is shaped in relationship to every day objects. My work is also autobiographical and deeply linked to my past: family, and childhood recollections. It is informed by my personal research on memory, human development, sociology, and history. I investigate the facets of memories, which provide numerous avenues for exploration and an understanding of my relationship with my surroundings." –Renee Zettle-Sterling Renee Zettle-Sterling's sculptural metal mouthpieces, conceived for the exhibition Engaging Memory: Contemporary Interpretations of War, refuse to represent war or to address it as an abstract concept because the creations are founded in memory. Based on numerous veteran interviews, the series, called “Actualities”, acts as a kind of mouthpiece for the past. Although seemingly innocuous commentaries on war, the constructions are loaded with nostalgic references to toys and domestic elements, allowing them to operate on a broad associative level. Because the “Actualities” are combined interpretations of veterans' memories, the artist's conceptions, and the viewer's own reference points, there are multiple connotations for each piece. Ultimately, Zettle-Sterling reintroduces human engagement to the subject of war, allowing for a nonjudgmental interpretation because she addresses war in terms of a universal or shared experience. ARTIST STATEMENT FOR ENGAGING MEMORY: CONTMEPORARY INTERPRETATIONS OF” WAR- ACTUALITIES “This exhibition engages memory through a close inspection of war and its impact on the individual. Veterans carry with them long and complex experiences arising from the realities of war and the vulnerability of memory to the passage of time. Through my role as an artist, I have tried to document the veterans' stories by making their oral histories visible in the artwork. The 'Actualities' are meant to reconstruct or convey their experiences. Capturing and illustrating the transforming power of war and its residual effects on the identity of the veterans and of those around them is fundamental to the premise of the work. These mouthpieces, symbolic of the veterans' voices, function not only as corks that impede the flow of memories, but also as repositories for memory. The 'Actualities' become a conduit for their reflections. By wearing the pieces, the viewers gain insight into the veterans' experience, particularly the different facets of their memories and identities. The viewers then themselves become the conduits for these oral histories. While the mouthpieces are not in use, the pedestals are vital to the pieces because they help define and maintain the meaning of each work The pedestals are more than just a place for displaying the work. Rather, they serve to separate each piece into an individual site for contemplation, transforming each work into a monument. Gaining an understanding of what constitutes war and its transforming nature helps us develop a better appreciation of our humanity. The veterans and their stories, and our engagement with them, delicately link us to the past. Ultimately, we find we are all connected to one another through our own experiences.” STUDIES IN THE EPHEMERAL Artist Statement: “This body of work deals with questions of the material/immaterial as well as object/experience. The bubble blowers act as the vehicle by which awareness of the body and the mind is achieved. During a concentrated effort, such as blowing a bubble, one becomes immersed in oneself and the realization that the body is performing occurs: if only for a moment. The transformation of one's bodily function, such as breathing into a physical object/bubble is also pertinent to the work.” DEVICES FOR CONTEMPLATION Artist Statement: “This body of work deals with the connection between objects and experience. For me, these objects within the devices are enchanting, fragile, and carrying with them the potential for contemplation. It is my hope that these devices/objects stimulate memory through the awakening of the senses, reminding the viewer of moments in life that are transitory. The menial and repetitive quality of tools like scissors, dividers, and pliers can create a space that is devoid of meaning, which allows the viewer to look inward, creating a temporal experience that has the potential to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our fragile relationship to the world.” COPING MECHANISMS/SURVIVAL TIPS Artist Statement These devices or prosthetic structures both help and hinder interaction in the environment and also examine how we relate to ourselves and others. Life has become so compartmentalized and overspecialized that we have lost something along the way. In many ways we have lost the ability to control and enjoy our experiences, forming a physical and mental disconnect from the world. I am drawn to the idea that these “adult toys” could help transition from the objective realities of adulthood back to the subjectivity of childhood.