"New Green (detail)"
Lylian Klimek, "New Green (detail)," 2006, mixed media, installation dimensions variable.
LYLIAN KLIMEK, New Green
Art Gallery of Calgary, Calgary
June 6 — Sept 3, 2006
BY Nicholas Roukes
H.G. Wells's lesser known book, Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth (1904), presents a scenario in which a "new scientific wonder" escapes control and produces runaway genetic mutations — giant leeches, plants and cockroaches, and a new race of giant people — that threaten to destroy human life. It's like a B-movie script, surreal and laughable; however, in the context of today's mind-boggling scientific research, the story can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the very real consequences of superficially-regulated scientific research.
Biotechnology has grown to become an industrial giant which, among other things, has bestowed the world with genetically modified ingredients in the food industry; a scientific breakthrough that actuates worrisome fears. In the rapidly expanding field of bio-engineering, genomics, gene mapping, and biological reconstruction of DNA, science has refined a technology that goes directly to the core of living cells; a domain where virtually anything and everything is possible. Environmentalists and ethicists remind us that there now exists a serious threat to our biosphere if scientific research is not accountable to ethical and moral conduct .
Calgary sculptor Lylian Klimek has an obsessive interest in the interface between natural and synthetic biology. "My present series of works provides a glimpse into a world where scientific fact and science fiction morph and new forms appear which are alien, artificial, fake, and fantastic," she explains. Klimek is not a "bio-artist," an appellation reserved for those newly-arrived avant-garde artists who perceive DNA as an artform, and dedicate their efforts toward the creation of "living art" in a petri dish. Rather, she works in a traditional mode congruent to the practice of Bauhaus artist Paul Klee (1879 — 1940) who contemplated living things in nature for the purpose of stimulating visual ideas. Klimek goes a step beyond Klee by commenting on synthetic biology and adding science fiction and implied social commentary to the mix.
"My work represents a fantasy world of plant forms, but also hints at a trivial and superficial overlay of natural phenomena, referencing the emphasis on image rather than substance in life science research and the marketing of everything, including patents on life." It is obvious that Klimek loves the additive process of sculpture-making, and the attendant joy of producing well-crafted art; an attribute she consistently brings to her artwork and admires in the art of her contemporaries, such as Yayoi Kusama, Anish Kapoor and Martin Puryear.
An appealing quality of Klimek's art is found in the synthesis of aesthetics and symbolism inherent in her work; a unity which invites both aesthetic contemplation and metaphoric speculation. "Sure, I want my viewers to enjoy the artwork," Klimek remarks, "but I also want them to think!"
The stairs of the Art Gallery of Calgary which lead to the lower level bring viewers immediately into the heart of Klimek's installation. Twelve curious minimalist objects obliquely reminiscent of plants, flowers, and other living forms, are made from found materials, handicraft items such as beads and chenille pipe cleaners, mortar and coloured casting resin. The idiosyncratic forms vary in colour and shape from organic, plump and fuzzy to wiggly, beady, wiry, and skinny.
The subtle whimsy and cryptic satire which seems to underlie this work becomes more evident as one reads the amusing fable written by Klimek for the exhibition brochure. Among the characters in Klimek's fictive tale are the Sentient Sky Strings who live "up there" and the earthbound New Greens — "two, totally unrelated species [who] set out to splice, exchange and pool genetic material."