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"Swimming Upstream in the comfort of: Homage to Yves Klein (detail)"
Ian Johnston, "Swimming Upstream in the comfort of: Homage to Yves Klein (detail)," painted vinyl vehicle bumpers, 2008.
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Installation view, "Module," Kelowna Art Gallery.
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"Hymn to Calamity"
liza Au, "Hymn to Calamity," ceramic forms, with metal frame and electrical lights, 2007.
Kelowna Art Gallery
March 21 to May 3, 2009
By Portia Priegert
Module, at the Kelowna Art Gallery, considers work created from multiples of similar units, bringing together three Western Canadian artists: Eliza Au, Ian Johnston and Lylian Klimek. Curated by Liz Wylie, the exhibition offers a spiritually informed collection that is more visually appealing than its functional title might suggest.
Most eye-catching is an installation by Nelson, B.C.-based artist Ian Johnston, who lets a wave of profound blue flow over one wall of the gallery like an ethereal tsunami. Johnston’s practice involves ingeniously recycling commonplace objects from contemporary life – in this case, vinyl bumpers from damaged cars – to make a statement about the excesses of consumer society. After slicing off mashed-up parts of the bumpers, Johnston paints them an equally deep blue and screws them to the wall. They float in indeterminate space, evoking thoughts ranging from the ravens of traditional West Coast art to the sci-fi technology of Star Trek.
Part of Johnston’s series, Refuse Culture: Archaeology of Consumption, the sleek installation also brings to mind the flotsam of daily life – things like electric razors, clock radios and blow dryers. Johnston, who trained as an architect, titles the piece Swimming Upstream in the Comfort of: Homage to Yves Klein, a tribute to the eccentric artist who used blue pigment to evoke thoughts of the immaterial.
Also visually appealing, albeit in a subtler way, is Au’s installation, Hymn to Calamity. Au, a Master’s student at Alfred University in New York, constructed an 11-foot-high semicircular wall from 231 perforated ceramic blocks illuminated internally with electric lights. The result is a warm and glowing space that echoes tribal architectural forms while creating a sense of transcendence. Au’s conceptual analogy is the eye of a hurricane and she seeks to offer gallery visitors a moment of contemplative serenity in a spot that is warm and feels safe.
Klimek presents four smaller installations that are more loosely modular. She offers poetic gestures based on moments of introspection and wonder about the natural world, some of them relating to her experiences hiking in the mountains near her Calgary home.
In one piece, After the Forest, she places fake miniature conifers on much larger cross-sections of logs, provoking thoughts about the cycles of nature and the impact of human activities on the land. Klimek, a former instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design, also tries to give visual form to ideas she encounters in science journals and natural history books. For instance, No Bees, No Buzz, which is composed of four semi-ovoid forms covered with mud, glitter and beads, refers to the emerging ecological crisis of disappearing bee populations.
The works of these three artists are varied in form and magnitude, yet sit together well in the dimly lit gallery, offering viewers a chance to contemplate different approaches to building on avant-garde ideas from the last century. While these artists do not work exclusively with the module, it is a common chord in their repertoire, and Wylie plucks it in the context of a seminal quote by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius: “Only work that is the product of inner compulsion can have spiritual meaning.” The compulsive nature of working with modular units needs little comment. What seems more interesting is how these artists filter their spiritual concerns through serial creations that provoke both thought and visual delight.