Magdolene Dykstra

Artist Statement

A desire to understand my place in the universe drives my work. Using sculpture, installation, and drawing, my work meditates on the unfathomable multiplicity of humanity. My compositions are inspired by microbiology, finding lineage in the Romantic artists of the 19th century who used their paintings to evoke the sublime by reminding the viewer of their diminutive status in relation to grand landscapes. In contrast to macro landscapes, I site the sublime in microbial terrain. In a time of environmental endangerment, my aesthetic of cellular accumulation references the vast numbers of the human race, swarming beyond what is sustainable. I compose my work using primarily unfired clay, imparting these roiling masses with precarity to reflect on the fragility of our collective existence. At the route of my practice is the question: what is the role of the individual within the horde?

My sculptures and installations merge my interest in the foreign terrain of microbiology with an examination of what Barnett Newman called the “abstract sublime”. These works reference the aim of Abstract Expressionism to induce a strong emotional response with their compositions of unfamiliar growth. Within these works, each individual is absurdly insignificant except for its interconnectedness to everything around them. Gathered en masse, these lifeforms overwhelm the structure upon which they grow. Drawing on the ephemeral works of land artist Richard Long, my Interventions contextualize the microbial forms in the landscape. Despite the accumulating number of cells in each Intervention, these works are temporal. Out of respect for ecosystem integrity, all clay is removed from the installation site.

Just as prehistoric artists recorded their presence using pigments of the earth, I use clay to explore my relationship to the earth and the universe. Sculpture, installation, and drawing allow me to make the unseen tangible. Using clay connects me to rituals and cultures throughout human history. This primordial material bears the memory of the earliest artists, all the way back to the cave of Le Tuc d’Audoubert in France, where a bull and cow sculpted in raw clay have lain for about 15,000 years. Instead of relying on the ability of fired clay to withstand time, I use raw clay in order to embrace ephemerality. Impermanence enhances preciousness. The things that don’t last demand more careful attention.

-- Magdolene Dykstra


Magdolene Dykstra is a first generation Egyptian-Canadian. After studying both biology and visual arts in undergraduate studies, she received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Magdolene has participated in residencies at the Medalta Historic Clay District (Alberta), Watershed Center for Arts and Crafts (Maine), and the Vermont Studio Center (Vermont). Magdolene has been awarded several grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, including Research and Creation Grants, Exhibition Assistance Grants, and Arts Abroad Grants. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and is included in collections around the world. Recent exhibitions include a site-specific installation at the Gardiner Museum (Toronto, ON). Upcoming exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the Jane Hartsook Gallery (New York, NY). She lives in the Niagara region of Ontario where she is a passionate artist-educator, teaching at secondary and post-secondary levels.

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