Clara Kristalova’s ceramic sculptures address climate anxiety with dark humor

“Everything suddenly started to sound menacing,” said Klara Kristalova, of the themes that evoke her current solo exhibition, The Cold and Warm Wind, at London’s Lehman Maupin. Consumed by the endless cycle of news and mounting evidence of the impact of global warming, the artist has spent the past year bouncing between feelings of dread and weary optimism.

Her first solo show with Lehmann Maupin since 2015, “The Cold Wind and the Warm” follows the artist’s inclusion last year in “Strange Clay,” Hayward Gallery’s critically acclaimed show, and her recent solo shows with Perrotin in both New York (2022 ) and Seoul (2021).

However, what sets this exhibition apart is its strong focus on the pressing issue of climate change, which stemmed from Kristalova’s growing sense of “panic,” as she puts it. In “The Cold Wind and the Warm,” the artist creates space to discuss the most important topics through small details and a subtle, dark sense of humor. The exhibition, including ceramic sculptures and works on paper, draws the viewer into a strange and fantastical world where subtle details and grotesque characters convey the experience of facing massive and irreversible change.

The result is a very powerful exhibition in which the theme of change is a vehicle for calling for urgent and large-scale action in response to an impending environmental disaster. The artist’s state of constant emotional outpouring and self-pressure to communicate the reality of environmental degradation imbued her new body of work with a singular intensity. “It’s not obvious when you look at them, but the works come from a weight that I needed to express,” said Kristalova.

Working in a secluded studio in Norrtalia, Sweden – one of the northernmost points of the Stockholm archipelago – the artist spends most of her time immersed in nature. The towering trees, undulating lake, and lush bushes that surround her bright, barn-like studio are embedded in her psyche. As a result, she is keenly interested in the effects of climate change on her local landscape: “I never thought that in my life I would witness changes in the weather. Where I live, we no longer have snow in the winter and the summer is very hot. The flowers that used to grow can no longer On thriving in dry soil. You can see and feel the change in the air.”

Mysterious and fickle in nature, the works presented in The Cold and the Warm reflect the capacity for constant change inherent in the environment Kristalova describes. Like the plants and animals that surround the artist’s studio, the sculptures themselves seem to shift and transform before the viewer’s eyes. Each work is stuck in a state of transformation, constantly shifting between the categories of human, animal, and plant.

This idea is more aptly represented than before Weight (2023), a miniature porcelain of a nude woman with a larger-than-life butterfly emerging from her back. With its short life cycle punctuated by a series of physical transformations, the butterfly is a powerful symbol of transfiguration that draws viewers’ attention to the temporality of nature. This work blurs the boundaries between man and animal, inviting viewers into a world of coexistence and interbreeding. In the case of another pottery titled lust for life (2023), The Fallen Tree is personified as a stranded woman who reaches for the top in despair. This corpse-like log reminds the viewer of the death inherent in the felling of a tree.

a description Girl with sun visorsk (2023), one of the most striking pieces on display, Kristalova articulated the divisions at the heart of her work. “I love sunny weather and the warmth and light. It lifts you up, but it’s also very powerful—think of how light and dry it would be if the rain didn’t blow. A serious lack of balance. I think I wanted the sun mask to include beauty and a little bit of harshness,” she said..

Indeed, capturing opposing ideas into a single form is central to the artist’s practice: it allows her to construct a world somewhere between reality and fantasy, where birth and death, beauty and disgust, intimacy and discomfort coexist in one enigmatic creation. In doing so, her works evoke a specific anxiety, similar to the experience of the stranger, that invites viewers to suspend faith and plunge into an uncomfortable world of constant instability and never-ending change.

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