Haim Steinbach is interested in the shared social ritual of collecting, arranging and presenting objects; an experience that on a basic level extends to us all, whether it’s through the way we arrange the objects in our homes, or the way we select and wear our clothes. For Steinbach, objects have a function similar to language. We have feelings about objects; we project onto them and communicate through them. They provoke a variety of possible cultural or psychological associations leading to an infinite chain of meanings. In his ‘display’ works, he uses shelves and cabinets as devices that underscore an otherwise ordinary object, allowing us to consider its aesthetic, cultural and social evocations without prejudice or presumption. Often our response to the object may be ambivalent; we may find ourselves to be simultaneously fascinated, repulsed and seduced.
Steinbach has said that his work is “about vernacular, which is a common form of language: things that we make, express and produce” and that it is “not only about selecting and arranging objects of my own choice, but also presenting the objects chosen by others.” He often refers to the structures he builds for the objects he presents as “framing devices.” Steinbach sets up comparisons within his work between ‘high’ versus ‘low’ culture, the unique versus the multiple, the personal versus the universal. Furthermore, to use a more traditional description, while the elements come from vastly different social and cultural contexts, the artist puts them together in a way that is analogous to the arrangement of words in a poem, or to the musical notes in a score.