In Consuming Meaning (2014), a patchwork quilt of plastic, fabric, cotton, and string is draped over an L-shaped metal rod drilled to the wall. In Stuff Between Skin and Exterior (2015), the fabric hangs from the bar like a shower curtain. Employing this range of materials and often incorporating everyday objects, Steinum works with polarities, in physical and conceptual terms. The hard linearity and right angles of the metallic scaffolds versus the organic shapes and bleeding colors of the quilts; the soft, matte felt squares versus the transparent plastic ones; the handmade quality of the textile collages versus the industrial precision of the rods. Steinum performs different actions on different materials, highlighting their contrasting appearances and tactile qualities. She pulls everyday objects from their mundane contexts, restructuring them to raise questions around the physical materials that can comprise art.
In her sculptures, Steinum deals with material concerns from a feminist perspective. There is a clear distinction in her body of work between handmade patchworks and more mechanized pieces weaved on a loom, but in both cases she uses material to address questions of female labor. (Textiles are, of course, traditionally women’s work.) Even the metal frameworks—though they may appear to be readymade manufactured objects—are carefully designed by the artist and custommade.
Her work engages in a long and storied discussion of the female body in art, and particularly with artists who, in the wake of turbulent conditions in Europe before and after World War II, created art that was dense with physical matter. Examples include the oil paintings of Jean Dubuffet—such as Woman’s Body (Butcher’s Slab) (1950), which, like his other pieces, has an extremely thick and clotted surface—and performances by Yves Klein, in which nude models covered themselves with paint and then pressed their bodies onto canvases.
Steinum’s works are, ultimately, organic and unrepeatable in their unstructured shapes and chaotic colors—showing us that the desire for cleanliness that has historically been imposed on women is indeed dubious.