Wylie: Peer through peephole to see colossal crystals

Even people who are not usually fans of contemporary art will want to see the installation by Kristoff Steinruck.

This summer at the Kelowna Art Gallery the boundary between the real world and the realm of the imaginary will be a thin sheet of drywall.

Even people who are not usually fans of contemporary art will want to come to look through a hole in this wall to see the installation by Kristoff Steinruck of a cave of giant crystals in our Mardell G. Reynolds Gallery space.

After seeing images of it online a couple of years ago, Steinruck became fascinated by the real version of this cave, which is located in Mexico. Due to its specific conditions (high humidity and extreme heat) gigantic crystals of the mineral selenite have formed there that are the largest in the world.

No one can visit the cave, so he decided to recreate it and used it as a set for a video that he shot last year in Lake Country.

Subsequently it was decided to recreate the fake cave as an installation at the Kelowna Art Gallery. However, visitors will be blocked from entering it by a freshly constructed wall and, as mentioned, will only be able to look in at the cave through a hole punched through the drywall for this purpose.

The sheer beauty and verisimilitude that the artist has been able to achieve with only the basic materials of cut white polystyrene (for the crystals) and crumpled brown kraft paper (for the rocky walls of the cave) are astounding. The colossal scale of the crystals (taller than people) is also impressive and stunning (and the fake crystals have been built at one half scale of the real ones).

But the big mind-bender is the slippery notion of reality—and looking at the Crystal Cave gets us going on this train of thought: What is real, what is fake? Why is a distinction between these two so important? After all, our ideas about reality are only theories, and we really have no idea what anything actually is, what we are, nor why we are here on this planet.

The shock of the large scale and convincing presence of the Crystal Cave acts like an elbow to the ribs for our minds, and this is where Steinruck’s interest and excitement lie, and what makes the fake cave function as art.

So what is it we are looking at? Some people may think of Superman’s Arctic fortress of solitude. The Crystal Cave certainly does not look real in the sense of existing somewhere on Earth. And yet it is not a comic-book or Sci-Fi invention, it is a faithful replica of a real, natural formation.

Our thinking about this can get fuzzy after a while, and if we talk about it, we might sound like Cheech and Chong. But this is right where Steinruck wants to place us, and all from just one little glimpse through a hole in the wall.

Canadian artist David Milne remarked a few times that one could be influenced for life by a great work of art glimpsed only through the crack of an open door. I wonder if a look at the Crystal Cave may have this kind of staying power. It certainly is the kind of work that gets kids thinking they want to be artists when they grow up.

Steinruck was born in Vancouver but grew up in the Kootenays. He studied English literature with a minor in Art History at the University of British Columbia. He decided to pursue an art practice and went to obtain his MFA at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, which he completed in 2009.

He began working with photography, and sometimes combining photography with installation.

The Crystal Cave is his largest and most ambitious project since finishing his graduate degree.

Steinruck’s Crystal Cave 1 is up at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Sept. 16. Come on down and share your comments with us, we would love to know what you think.

Kelowna Capital News

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