Power & Vulnerability: The Art of Linda Stein – 1999


Art Critic, New York City

In the late 1980’s, when sculptor Linda Stein began to use the machete blade in her work, she created Blade Space, a lyrical series including many suspended sculptures fusing machetes with curvilinear wooden shapes, often inlaid with fragments of everyday life. Shapes dance with each other in air to create an impression of softness rooted in strength; the blades are still intimidating, but placed in a context that is erotic, totemic, and grounding. The usual association of the machete with maleness, an agricultural tool, or an instrument of violence, is scrambled and expanded. Stein’s incorporation and transformation of this object into startling abstract forms stimulates reflection on the nature of strength, power and vulnerability, internal and societal violence, masculinity and femininity.

Blades 208-213 is a massive installation of a dozen curved machete blades springing up from a rectangular base of textured objects. Rock fossils, cans, earrings, belts, and calligraphy plates are surrounded by blade sculptures suspended at different heights. The overall effect is of a ritual object of shamanistic power.

In a series entitled Blade Arcs and Bridges, Stein transferred the blades from the foreground to the background, blending them with brooms, pipes and hoses to create wall friezes. In these copper and brass encrusted sculptures, etching or carvings in the shape of blades replace the actual steel machetes. In Self Portrait with Shell, the artist’s arms are crossed protectively over her chest. In each hand she holds a blade. Her expression is a mixture of vulnerability and determination. It is an image of a modern warrior goddess, forging or rescuing a universe.

In her latest work, Stein has been handling the blades with an ever-lighter touch. After a period of using the curved shape of the blade as the subject for energetic, yet meditative watercolors (Blade Vibrations), she began to weld blades in playful juxtapositions to musical instruments, boom boxes, mops and propellers. She intersperses color into the burnishes, monochromatic surfaces of these Musical Blades, to heighten the surprise. As a believer in active viewing, Stein often engages the audience in touching the sculptures and writing responses to the phrase, “These blades make me feel…” She then frames and hangs these responses in subsequent exhibitions. She has also produced a video of dream sequences that source her work.

Stein has used the blade motif to build a terrain that is resonant with a planetary consciousness of the rock and shale underpinnings of our world.