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article imageSculptor brings his alien creations to Toronto's Distillery Special

By David Silverberg     May 23, 2009 in Entertainment
Michael Christian's sculptures are straight out of a fevered nightmare. Now his unique metal creatures, best known to prowl Burning Man events, will be holding court at the Distillery District in Toronto.
If you've been to the festival Burning Man in Nevada, then you have seen Michael Christian's handiwork. The 44-year-old Oakland artist is well respected at this fest for his wild and dizzying 40-foot-tall metal sculptures. Some resemble fire-breathing aliens, others look like serpentine coils diving through the sand.
Recently, Christian travelled to Toronto to create his first work in Canada. Invited by the Distillery District, in the southeast end of the city, Christian was commissioned to place two of his pieces in the District. For three years, his creatures named IT and Koilos will stand silently as pedestrians meander through the popular tourist spot.
The 14-foot-tall Koilos could be out of a Del Toro film: a creature in the crouching position has a head fringed with flames, giving the impression of a monster eager to pounce. It was made with 2,000 pounds of steel.
Michael Christian  an Oakland sculptor
Christian has been commissioned to create dozens of metal sculptures.
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"It's practically a paradox," Christian says of Koilos. "It wants to jump but also wants to relax at the same time. It wants to contemplate, but also wants to play."
The larger work, placed on a pathway in the District, stands 40 feet tall complete with a spinning head. It resembles a spider with a bulbous head, and it was constructed with 10,000 pounds of steel. Dubbed IT, the insect-like metalwork was used during Burning Man as an interactive piece, where people could climb a ladder to view the horizon from the head's perspective. But the Distillery version won't permit that audience participation because of liability concerns.
Both of Christian's pieces seem to evoke a dark fantastical theme. "I like exploring the dual nature of humans," he says. "We create and we destroy. We can be beautiful and horrible at the same time." He also finds humour in his work, a "comedy of life" aspect that he tries to inject into many pieces.
Working in this medium for 12 years, Christian has been shown in galleries and public spaces across the the American west coast. He became a sensation at Burning Man only after he decided to give in to the dance-music fest: "I was coming from a place of 'high art' and didn't want to be associated with these fests. Then I thought, 'why not?' They are paying me to do what I love to do."
Christian also appreciates the carte blanche given to him by Burning Man organizers. That freedom sparked his imagination to create surreal art, such as the ever-popular Flock sculpture. It has all the spindly qualities of a War of the Worlds alien, and the legs almost look like the piece is on the move. Christian says he wanted Flock to "have an ethereal quality where it's wandering but also has roots."
Michael Christian working on Koilos
Christian is tweaking his metal sculpture in Toronto, called Koilos
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It's evident Christian is passionate about placing his work in public spaces. He's noticed, though, that the process truly excites him. "See, by the time it's finished, it's no longer mine. Other people interact with the art. It's a strange feeling."
One of the owners of the Distillery couldn't be happier to have Christian on board. "The work is provocative and powerful," says John Berman. "You should see how many people are taking photos and standing next to the sculptures."
For more images of Christian's art, visit his website here.
More about Michael christian, Distillery district, Sculpture, Art, Toronto
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