Lisa Steele was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1947 and immigrated to Canada in 1968. An important pioneer of video art in Canada since the early 1970s, Steele has shown internationally at the Venice Biennale (1980), the Kunsthalle (Basel), the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), the National Gallery of Canada, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston), 49th Parallel Videoseries, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Long Beach Museum. Her videos are in collections worldwide, including The National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Houston, Texas), Ingrid Oppenheim, Concordia University (Montreal), Newcastle Polytechnic (England), Paulo Cardazzo (Milan), the Canadian Embassy (Tokyo) and the Akademie der Kunst (Berlin). She is a founding director of V tape in Toronto, a national information and distribution service for independent video and a founding publisher and editor of FUSE Magazine.
Her brother James B. Steele is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist located in Philadelphia.
Steele's best known early work Birthday Suit – with scars and defects (1974) is a thirteen-minute black and white video tape where she "presents her naked body to the unblinking gaze of the camera". The tape itself is characterized by common practices of early video art, unedited with a static shot. Steele turns the camera on, walks to the end of the room/set and removes her clothing. She approaches the camera and begins to examine the various scars she's accumulated over her life up to that point. The work represents what critic Dot Tuer indicates is "an offering to the technological gaze [which] downplays the representation of the body as a gendered subject," and as film historian Catherine Russell points out, the work is a "counter-image to the emergent critique of the female body in narrative cinema." Steele's description of the work:
On the occasion of my 27th birthday I decided to do a tape that chronicled my passage through time. I have always been clumsy, tripping, dropping, falling with alarming regularity. This tape accepts the extent of the consequences.
A Very Personal Story (1974) is a videotape film which acts as a metaphor to Steele's childhood experience of discovery her mother's dead body at the age of 15.
The Ballad of Dan Peoples (1976) is a videotape in which Steele holds a photograph of an old man while sitting upon a stool. She then narrates stories of her grandfather's rural childhood in his voice, taking of the characteristics and personality of the old man. The "memories" and "identity" of her grandfather revealing a part of her own identity, and the closing credits acknowledging her grandfather's recent move to a home for the aged reveal the familial and self-reflective conditions under which this work was inspired.
Since the early 1980s Steele has worked exclusively in collaboration with Kim Tomczak. Their individual and collaborative work was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1989-90. In 1993, Steele and Tomczak were recognized with two awards: the Bell Canada Award for excellence in the field of Canadian video art and a Toronto Arts Award (the Peter Herndorf Media Arts Award). In 1996, their work The Blood Records: written and annotated, received a world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Their installation work We're Getting Younger All the Time has been installed in several locations in England, in Venice and was at the Centre d'art Contemporain in Basse-Normandie in November 2002. In 2005 Steele and Tomczak won the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.
In 2016, Wanda Nanibush, a new curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario referred to Steele as an ongoing significant contributor to the Toronto new media scene.
Winner of the Long Haul Award for lifetime achievement at the Untitled Art Awards reception in Toronto, February, 2005.
Steele is a breast cancer survivor.Birthday Suit - with scars and defects (1974)
A Very Personal Story (1974)
The Ballad Of Dan Peoples (1976)
The Gloria Tapes (1980)
with Kim Tomczak:Working The Double Shift (1984)
Legal Memory (1992)
The Blood Records: written and annotated (1997)
We're Getting Younger All The Time (2001)
Make Love Not War (2003)
Practicing Death (2003)
Free Speech (2006)
Speak City (2009)