I was unable to meet with Sandra Sterle in person, but happily chatted her on Skype.
One of Sterle's projects that immediately attracted my attention was Nausea, which she first performed in 2008 Split. While the song “A Dalmatian Man Wears a Chain Around his Neck” by Mišo Kovač, a cult icon of Croatian folk music, plays in the background, the artist vomited, or at least attempted to. Sterle described this singer as the type that would be well-liked by “football supporters,” and has also described Split itself as a very athletic and sporty city, as opposed to a cultural one—something she noticed when she moved there in the early 2000s. For the artist, the song represents the patriarchal culture of Dalmatia. As Ivana Bago has written about the piece, “By publicly inducing vomiting and displaying her own position of powerlessness in the face of the norms of the social majority, the artist constitutes herself as a subject in rebellion."
The performance attracted a great deal of attention in the mass media and on social media, generating conversations in chat rooms not about the patriarchal culture that Sterle called attention to, but about the nature of art. This particular use of performance was apparently something new for the surrounding community in Split, despite the rich tradition of performance in Croatia (not to mention in Split) which demonstrates a relative lack of visibility of earlier performance pieces from the 1970s and 1980s, which were known to or acknowledged only by a smaller and closed circle.
In starting a conversation not only about gender issues, but also about the nature of contemporary art, Sterle's is an important contribution to the contemporary performance landscape of Eastern Europe.