MAY 4 – JUNE 2, 2001



Clint Wilson’s work uses the confluence of science and eroticism to investigate the complex interdependent relationships between how we see the world and how we use it. His project GENERELLE MORPHOLOGIE for the Stride Gallery was a small, orderly installation of 14 window generation machines, placed on 14 tripods, with 14 small taxidermy birds suspended above the wind machines by a network of guy wires. As viewers moved through the space, the birds began to spin, and the room was filled with digitally processed sounds of pond like sounds and a male voice humming Waltzing Matilda. Accompanying the waltzing birds was a series of phylogenic drawings that hung on either side of the installation.



CLINT WILSON is an Edmonton artist who attended the U of A, and received his master’s degree from the University of Victoria. He has shown extensively throughout Canada, most recently with a solo exhibition at the Khyber gallery in Halifax and a solo exhibition at Kingston, Ontario’s Modern Fuel Gallery.




In Generelle Morphologie, Clint Wilson makes dead birds dance a mechanical waltz and the effect is at once absurd and hauntingly beautiful, ridiculous and sublime. Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer finds 14 wind generating machines, placed on 14 tripods, with 14 small canary warblers suspended above the machines by a network of guy wires. This installation is clean and orderly, meticulously plotted along the lines of an invisible grid, suggesting the rational and controlled space of a scientific laboratory. As the viewer moves through the space, the scene is brought to life by randomly activated sensors. The wind machines do their work, the birds begin to spin, and the room is filled with the digitally processed sounds of pond life and a male voice humming Waltzing Matilda.

Since the mid-1990s, Clint Wilson has been creating site-specific installations that explore that he describes as “the complex interdependent relationship between how we see the world and how we use it.” Generelle Morphologie belongs to this body of work, in which visual and verbal texts drawn from the life sciences (human biology, zoology, botany) are appropriated, reconfigured and placed within the fictional framework of ‘dumb’ laboratories or installation reminiscent of natural history museum and their predecessor the cabinet of curiosities. At first sight, Wilson’s installations gesture towards lofty biological or technological investigations. The viewer is momentarily seduced by the cool, clinical aesthetic of large Pyrex vessels (Science Stories, 1998), glass lenses and petri dishes (Lumen and Family Tree, 1996-97), and translucent latex sacs randomly inflating and deflating (…but the clouds, 1999), but the playful irony of these bioapperatii becomes apparent upon closer inspection.

These are simulated environments that point to their own artificiality, to the mechanisms of their own construction –materials that initially seem hi-tech reveal themselves as lo-tech, the stuff of high school science fairs and hobby kits tinkered with in the garage. When the illusion wear off, the viewer is meant to recognize that the source of these pseudo-scientific wind machines, vessels and wires is nothing more arcane than the local Radio Shack or Home Depot. Generelle Morphologie is animated by the combination of such contradictory and complementary elements: the push-pull relations of ‘nature’ (as represented by the birds and the ambient sounds of pond life) and ‘culture’ (science, technology, museums), kinesis and stasis, poetics and politics, simplicity and complexity, the humourous and the poignant, the random and the highly controlled. In a culture where the pursuit of knowledge with a purpose has been replaced by the compulsive consumption and accumulation of information as commodity and where experiences that were once directly lived have crystallized into representations, liberation is to found in ideas, objects and acts that seem simple, absurd and irrational.

Clint Wilson has described his installations as attempts “to erase the functional and replace it with the senseless,” but they also do more. In the tradition of the best idea-based art of the late-twentieth-century (the work of Conceptualist Hans Haacke comes to mind), Wilson’s installations attempt to heighten our awareness of the ideological underpinnings of those thing which we have come to accept as natural, neutral, transparent and unmediated. The title of this exhibition, Generelle Morphologie, is drawn from a nineteenth-century text on mutations in animal physiology by the German biologist Ernst Haekel. Morphology is the study of the structure of things” whether it be the structure of organisms or the structure of words in a language, morphology seeks to contain, explain and define the phenomena that are a part of out lived experience. The taxidermy birds, each one bearing a tag that identifies them as the property of the zoology department at the University of Alberta, act as a visual metaphor for our cultural fixation with identifying, naming and containing phenomena in the name of scientific investigation and technological innovation –in a work, ‘progress’. But their randomly activated, circular waltz is a negation of the relentless, teleological march of evolution. On the walls of the gallery, circular images of altered evolutionary trees turned back upon themselves mirror the movement of the birds –both speak of circuitous processes with no distinguishable beginning or end, no known purpose.

Generelle Morphologie presents us with an absurd, mechanical simulation of the flight of a bird and we are momentarily transfixed, filled with wonder. Perhaps, it is this sense of wonder that is at the core of this work, the desire to retrieve that experience of awe and magic that we feel when things are left unexplained. As the canary warblers spin circles over the glistening blades of wind machines and the rivers of copper wire on the floor, it must occur to the viewer that this installation is more than a critique of our cultural obsession with science and technology –it also functions on a purely poetic level, where the flight of a bird leads to the contemplation of the beauty and mystery of life.

“Nothing else crosses my mind, I am air,
clear air, where the wheat is waving,
where a bird’s flight moves me, the uncertain
fall of a leaf, the globular eye of a fish unmoving in the lake,
the statues sailing in the clouds,
the intricate variations of the rain.”

-Pablo Neruda

ISABELA C. VARELA is a writer and curator based in Edmonton. She is the Assistant Curator at the Edmonton Art Gallery and a member of the Board of Directors of Latitude 53. She received a Bachelor if Arts in Art History from the University of Alberta and will receive her Master of Arts in Art History, Visual Art and Theory from the University of British Columbia in the Spring of 2001.

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