Margot Klingender in her studio. Photo by Nora Rosenthal

Sculpture garden of nightmares

An interview with Margot Klingender, whose show at Projet Pangée opens this week.

Margot Klingender is a Montreal-based artist on the eve of her second solo show, an exhibition of sculptural work at Projet Pangée called The Key to the Fields, whose title comes from a Magritte landscape. 

Klingender’s background is in painting and drawing, and it shows. The sculptures look like echoes of drawings, or rather, like drawings that ripped themselves out of a sketchbook to fight. Mostly flat and cut out of metal, these sculpture-drawings have a bizarre story-book presence. Here, you think, is grandma’s chair, is the garden gate, floats the butterfly, only grandma’s garden seems to grow from a menacing substrata indeed.

Klingender took a moment to speak with Cult MTL about her process, the favourite Renaissance painting she ruined for herself and about what it means to create an object of desire.

Nora Rosenthal: When did you start going 3D?

Margot Klingender: It didn’t really start until my MFA. It was a difference in the way of thinking about things, or space. I got really bored with drawing two dimensionally and it just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore.

NR: Are you drawing at all these days?

MK: Yeah I draw. How I arrive at a sculpture basically is I draw repeatedly, again and again and again and again in a bunch of different mediums. All of the sculptures basically start as a collected image – some of them from the net, some of them are things people send me from online forums or…you know 1stdibs? Weird stuff like that but also just stuff I see on the street. Literally anything but it has to have a certain kind of quality to it. 

NR: Could you name that quality?

MK: Yeah I think it has something to do with it being open and closed at the same time. So it has potential. It’s open enough that it’s malleable and it’s also specific enough so it’s closed. It also maybe has something to do with effect. But some things I’ll collect and then I’ll get bored of them. I’ll draw them again and again and then it doesn’t really end up anywhere and other things I have held onto for a super long time. Basically that process of drawing something again and again — it’s kind of like a repetition to abstraction. It’s knowing and unknowing something by repeating it. It’s creating meaning through this process of translation and transformation.

NR: Is there any image or symbol that you thought you could never spoil, but that you ruined for yourself in this way?

MK: So there’s this Renaissance painting of a woman singing into a mirror [by Jean-Etienne Liotard] and I drew it enough times that it kind of became this image of a woman screaming at another woman. But I fucking ruined it for myself. Like, I hate it now. I can’t stand it, so I’ve dumped it. I think that’s because it was figurative. The face just didn’t have the same longevity or something.

NR: There’s something very sort of nightmarish about these sculptures. It’s very country and garden but also warped. Could you talk about the overlap of the childlike and the comforting with something that deep down induces fear?

MK: I think part of that answer is that the media that I grew up watching has that kitschy nightmare [quality] but I think that it leaks out because that’s how I feel about myself or something? That’s how I present myself in the world. As something that can be charming or kind of a little coy and cute but then also has this other dimensionality.

NR: In terms of these different dimensions to the work, there’s something in the name The Key to the Fields that suggests there’s some sort of code to break. Is there anything to this?

MK: I mean the title comes from the first piece that started off this body of work, and that’s the Magritte piece [Klingender’s take on Magritte’s 1936 painting, a shiny but ragged cut-out sculpture of a window]. That piece is looking through a window. I’ve always had a thing about — I guess this is a narcissistic thing — but about mirrors, reflections. The original painting is looking through a window with this landscape, just a really boring landscape behind, and this shattered glass, so there’s this idea of the shattering of the self. Also that image transformed and became, in terms of personal allegory, really important for me. I guess maybe I feel like it’s a little bit of a key, that piece, for the rest of the exhibition, and also I’ve drawn that image more than anything else.

NR: I was thinking about how the art world and the art market is pretty areligious, but obviously so much iconography and symbology has roots in faith, so how does it feel to build very symbolic objects for consumption in an atheist milieu?

MK: Oh it feels good. So good. I think about desire and fetishism maybe not from a perspective of I want to make these things so people desire and fetishize them but that’s the way I feel about my work. I desire the things that I make. Not all the time. Sometimes I think, like everybody, it’s like a piece of hot garbage, but I want to evoke that desire. And I love the idea of building this vocabulary and having these symbols that become kind of known, but it’s not a market thing. Do you know Maggie Nelson, that book Bluets? She writes about desire not just being this need but this other kind of desire and that’s how I feel about my work. It’s not just this desire to consume, it’s like this other kind of desire. It’s much wider. ■

The Key to the Fields opens at Projet Pangée (372 Ste-Catherine W. #412) on Thursday, Sept. 5, 5:30–8:30 p.m. and continues until Oct. 19. Free