Magdolene Dykstra

Artist Statement

What is the shape of our species? Using sculpture, installation, and works on paper, my work meditates on the unfathomable magnitude of humanity, exploring the tension between individuality and the multiplicity of our species, visibility and anonymity, order and disorder, growth and decay. At the route of my practice is the question: what is the role of the individual within the horde? My installations and finger-paintings toggle back and forth between minimizing and asserting the presence of an individual. My sculptures and installations 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. The mind-blowing vastness of micro-organisms parallels the inconceivable multiplicity of humanity. An aesthetic of cellular accumulation allows for a meditation on interdependence. Within my works, each individual is absurdly insignificant except for its connection to everything around them. I compose my work using primarily unfired clay, imparting these roiling masses with precarity while reflecting on our dependence on the Earth. This primordial material also 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. My impermanent installations exist along a spectrum of becoming and undoing, reflecting on the transience of our collective existence, full of the potential for continual transformation. My finger-paintings blend references to Colour Field painting and cave paintings. Just as prehistoric artists recorded their presence using pigments of the Earth, my finger paintings record my presence with a simple, yet persistent gesture. Using soil and naturally occurring oxides, these paintings connect me to the earliest artists, as we insist on recording our existence with the Earth. Until the 1960s Canadian immigration policy overtly favored people of European descent. The legacy of this policy is visible in every room I enter. It reminds me, an Egyptian-Canadian, that whiteness was the goal for this nation. It is in this context that I continue to assert my existence and right to take up space by recording my presence. Even so, my extremely individual mark is a universal one, shared among all humans. These paintings also meditate on mortality, as the marks of my presence fade.


Magdolene Dykstra uses her work to meditate on the multiplicity of the human race. After studying 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, the Watershed Center for Arts and Crafts and Concordia University. Magdolene has been awarded several grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. Notable exhibitions include a site-specific installation at the Gardiner Museum (Toronto, ON), a solo exhibition at the Jane Hartsook Gallery (New York, NY), and an installation at the Grounds for Sculpture Museum (Hamilton, NJ).