LYLIAN KLIMEK was born in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and received her Master of Visual Arts in Sculpture from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1975. She has exhibited extensively across Canada in both groups and solo exhibitions, the most recent of which was at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG) Lethbridge, Alberta, last year.


On approaching Lylian Klimek’s residence in inner-city Calgary, one leaves the urban grid and passes through an overgrown, luxurious and chaotic flower garden, extending from curb to doorway. Between the house and backyard studio lies a second garden, ostensibly cultivated for orderly rows of vegetables, but in fact, it is without growth, the source of dirt that forms part of the patination of her sculptures. Now, however, the presence of these gardens in Limek’s works seems to extend beyond their mere surface or skin, and appears to have invaded the forms and concepts themselves, displacing those previously derived from mechanical fragments littering the inside of her studio.

As Klimek states:

“The experience of gardening makes one aware of the never ending natural cycles that form the backdrop for our lives; changing seasons, weather, constant renewal and rebirth, the passage of time. It makes one question common sense perceptions of nature dulled and made mundane by daily routines and calls attention to the mystery of man and nature.” (1)

The garden motif and the organic forms of her recent work thus serve as metaphors for examining and infusing new meanings into the duality of nature and culture. As Klimek’s work and statement suggest, conventional concepts of this dialectical relationship appear exhausted, outmoded, and in danger of collapsing.

Indeed, on first encountering her recent work, it is evident that the nature of Klimek’s sculptural garden is not based on the tradition of the bucolic, picturesque English model, the site of harmony, rest and tranquility. Her works do not necessarily offer an imminent, redemptive, contemplative retreat from post-industrial, post-modern pressures, turmoils and doubts, nor do they attempt to disguise the contradictions between nature and culture with a vener of taming civilization.

Rather, although Klimek does not entirely abandon the ideal of Utopia, her garden based forms also incorporate something more raw, more elemental, which appears at times even aggressive, ravaged and post-atomic. It is the addition of these qualities which adds vitality and urgency to her current work, making it timely, as concurrently, it embodies “timeless” forms and ideals.

But other significant changes from her earlier works are equally visible. Both the scale and the physical direction of her pieces have altered. Less tied to a union of the earth and ground and the mechanical, her recent work is more erect, discreet, and monolithic. At the same time, it is more dynamic, and even in many instances, more erotic.

“Portal” may be seen as emblematic of this growth and evolution. Serving as a symbolic point of entrance to the other works, it is composed of two truncated cones of molded fiberglas which function as uprights in an architectural framework. These are unified by Klimek’s characteristic gray coating of dirt and glue, mixed and brushed on in a rich, textured skin. Their tips have been pigmented by working a brilliant blue pastel into the surface. Also blue is a serrated blade-like form suspended between the closely placed cones, reversing their upward momentum and drawing them back to the ground.

The clarity, simplicity and balance of the forms themselves, however, are countered by problematic and ambiguous character. For example, the title suggests a rite of passage, yet the forms of the sculpture are closed, a doorway where entrance is prohibited or restricted, yet through which one can glimpse the promise of another space. Inviting, it is not without danger, and gives the impression of an ideal that exists, yet is lost or shut off. In addition, any tendency to monumental stability and symmetry is disrupted by the slightly different heights of the cones, the lack of a lintel, and the oblique angles at which they rise. Thus, although suggesting its precursor, “Portal” could not be further from Brancusi’s monolithic stone gate set in the park at Tirgo Jiu and erected on the eve of the technological nightmare of World War II, when dreams of a return to a garden and a spiritually informed instinct were still possible. In our own post-atomic world, such solutions seem to have lost significance except as nostalgic reminders of lost possibilities, and yet, as Klimek seems to suggest, the dream of Utopia retains its potential.

Rather than offering a Utopia beyond contradictions, however the multiple and fragmented readings and the unresolved dualisms in the text of Klimek’s sculpture create an instability, both physically and intellectually that keeps the viewer off-balance, de-centered. Reconcilliation of the oppositions seems impossible; we are consequently placed in doubt, unable to resolve the dream, the desire and the reality. The path to any present Utopia must confront then, other more complex problems.

The title and forms of “Cold Flower” carry on the multiple themes introduced in “Portal”. Like the latter, it is composed of several inter-related sections: a ziggurat shaped spiral tower of wrapped cardboard stands next to a low, flat vessel/bowl of cast fiberglass. The two forms are connected by an arcing stream of sectioned cardboard flowing from the top of the tower to the ground, like an arrested fountain. All the underlying materials are again covered in the grey patina, unifying the diverse shapes and constructive process.

The forms are, as before, ambiguous and enigmatic. The ziggurat and vessel suggest the basis of civilization, Ur-shapes, and the origins of language and form. Yet this “timelessness”, present in both Brancusi and his moder counterpart, Anish Kapoor, is obviated by the temporality of the underlying structural materials, salvaged from the modern world of mass-production and technology. Thus Klimek’s work seems to postulate a collapse of time into an eternal representation rather than a recuperation of history. This represents a post-modern condition noted by Fredric Jameson, who refers to “the displacement of time, the spatialization of the temporal” as separating the modern from the post-modern era. (2)

The erotic suggestions of the work are equally problematic. The oppositions of male and female are clearly present, yet they are not neatly resolved into a singular form as in Brancusi’s motifs incised on the Gates, nor, for that matter, as in Kapoor’s powered pigment covered forms.

In both their historical and sexual references, Klimek’s work seems to speak of the drift of the post-modern era beyond the Absolutes of “origins and telos, of deep time and Freudian Unconscious (dispatched by Foucault at one blow in the History of Sexuality).” (3)

In two versions of “Inca’s Fireflies”, Klimek’s memories of a night alive with glowing insects came into play, combining, it seems, with images stirred by the music of Kitaro’s Silk Road album. Yet again, the forms are anything but nostalgic. In each piece, a short runcated cone, learning precariously, contrasts with a serrated blade-like form whose sharp pointed edges are pigmented in red. Although one draws short of thinking of this version of nature a “bloody in tooth and clay”, the work does correspond, coincidentally, with another combination of contemporary music, fireflies and gardens:

“From the firefly, a red orange glow
See the face of fear running scared in the valley below.”

This apocalyptic reading from U-2 accounts for the arid, even lunar cast of Klimek’s recent work. Indeed, if her previous sculptures were “machines in space” her new pieces may well constitute a “garden in space”, albeit without the vision of spatial conquest.

This repositioning of the garden/nature metaphor into space or even hyper/space is a completely contemporary phenomenon, and may as Jameson points out, mark the era in which nature “has systematically been eclipsed from the object world and the social relations of a soceity whose tendential domination over its Other, the non-human or formerly natural is more complete than at any other moment in human history.”

As Klimek hinted in her opening statement, this relationship has virtually disappeared into the freeways, shopping malls, airports and industrial landscape of the present. But in our over-civilized world of simulation and media, Klimek’s work serves as a reminder that other forces may lie beneath the surface of our present ennui, forces whose existence we, in the end, ignore at our own peril, and which, even now offer hope for the future.

Leslie Dawn, October 1988.


(1) Lylian Klimek, unpublished artist’s statement, October 1988.
(2) Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Utopia”, in The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Utpoia Post-Utopia: Configurations of Nature and Culture in Recent Sculpture and Photography, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1988, p. 12. In this context it is not surprisingly that music according to Jameson, the most spatial and consequently the dominant form of our time, should form the direct inspiration for the works in this show. See ESP. pp.14-15
(3)IBID., p.12