Borealis is one of Steina’s most renowned video works; it is a multi-screen video piece that features images form Steina’s homeland, Iceland. The piece was finished in 1993. Steina grew up in Iceland by the Aurora Borealis and was surrounded by volcanoes, geysers, and other powerful natural phenomena. She was trained as a concert violinist in Prague and her work continues to take sound into careful consideration. She has shown her continued fascination with the environment in many of her art works.
Borealis explores the powerful and majestic element of water. Steina is concerned with creating an environment in this piece rather than simply a singular work. This multi-screened piece has been likened to players in a quartet. The water is shown flowing, crashing and swelling in harmony with the audio element and creates a symphony. The images consist of coastlines and rivers in Iceland. Steina transforms these images by creating close-up views and flipped perspectives. In Borealis, Vasulka establishes a relationship between the visual and sonic elements of nature.
The piece is comprised of four freestanding transparent screens that display moving images as well as mirrors and projectors that disseminate these images. The images become visible on both sides of the screens creating eight total images. The viewer is surrounded by sounds and moving images of water, rocks and confronted with the power of these natural elements. The images purposefully confuse our perception, as the water is shown to flow in reverse returning to the source and the detailed surface textures do not obviously reference the element.
Later in life Steina Vasulka moved to New Mexico and continued to draw inspiration from the environment. She is not known for romanticized depictions of nature but rather she is concerned with the influence of humans on the geographical and geological conditions as well as with textures and aesthetic details of the environment. The viewer’s experience is that of a traveler and the projections help them to have a sense that they are in a new natural environment or a virtual environment. Like a map maker Vasulka documents the structure and image of each natural site.