Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of RADICALITY and examines/challenges/promotes a complete and thorough political or social change within our field; of representing and supporting progressive shifts within glass that allow a broader recognition and inclusion of our community members of color a better opportunity to grow, to make, to teach, to learn, to exhibit, to be seen, and/or to be heard amongst us. It's also an issue that highlights artists whose work and practice are undeniably prompted by RADICALITY in both conceptual and technical prowess. I return to writing for GASnews by submitting an artist feature on Charisse Pearlina Weston, an outsider to glass who comes to it with an arsenal of personal experience and creative skillsets that informs her material sensibility through words, poetry. narrative, and print. I've been a fanboy of Weston's for the last couple of years and was absolutely stunned when she agreed to let me write a piece with her as the focal point. Best part of my summer...
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Summer 2020 issue of GASnews:
It’s a difficult idea I’m still working out, but perhaps some of the most necessary advancements to the field of contemporary glass are developed by artists coming to the medium through less obvious points of entry. Artists who come to glass without formal training in it. Artists who hadn’t earned degrees in it. Artists who come to glass with an external expertise in other non-glass fields of interest and translate those knowns into a substance unknown. Artists who illustrate a virtuosity with glass as being a matter of thinking with material as opposed to simply wanting to make eye-candy out of it. Enter Charisse Pearlina Weston, an artist and writer whose diversified creative practice approaches glass not as a thing to worship, but a podium of artmaking to mourn, commemorate, and speak of the complexities defining the Black lived experience.
As an accomplished essayist and poet, Weston’s work integrates a material awareness and sensibility with glass that parallel the way in which she observes and engages words, culminating in objects and installations that are driven by (and curious of) the interconnectedness of contradiction. Language, linguistics, poetry, fiction, and the autobiographical account all come together - both literally and figuratively - in work that critically engage issues of racial strain and struggle as conceptually layered, ambiguously disclosed narratives.
The visual language that she employs is one-part monument, one-part object collage; a spatial approach to an abstracted - yet story-laden - sculpture built on arrangements of seemingly disparate components; symbolic ingredients sometimes too vague to speak for themselves when their own, but, when together, form an emblematic voice that harmonizes around her conceptual center points in each work. Various inclusions of masonry, transparent papers and films, photography, text, and flat glass are all visual notes that lend to the flavor and aroma of a solemn, contemplative body of work that is defined by tones of hardness and weight as it is by instances of breakage and soft malformation.
Weston’s current integration of glass within her practice was initially unanticipated and unforeseen; only engaging flat glass back in 2016 as a means to remedy a display problem for an early series of horizontally placed photographs culminating in the installation The immaterial imaginary of rhythm moistened black salt into translucence. “That piece made me realize the potential of a material like glass to both deepen and activate a number of other references,” Weston remembers. “I was already doing work around Black mourning and remembrance, but incorporating glass into that work--with its sharp edges and risk, its fragility and its malleability--made the violence that necessitates those activities legible.”
Weston’s affection for words and writing allows me to think on her relationship with glass a bit deeper. Parallels emerge between her curating of installation work largely featuring sheets of glass and her curation of words onto a sheet a paper; very different material substrates in sheet form that are both ripe for providing clarity (in one way or another) and yet equally wrought with paradox. Both are rigid, but both are malleable. Both are fragile and easily destroyed, yet equally capable of being dangerous and searing. Both live in material identity of something like a contronym; shipped from their distributor as flat parallelograms that exist indeterminately as both a two-dimensional surface and a 3-dimensional object. The moments where commonality and contradiction crossover are frequent in Weston’s material handling and conceptual consideration, making for a body of work rich with layered coatings of intent. In fact, notions of “the layer” and “layering” – of things placed between things – is a method of organizing visual information within her practice worth unpacking, too.
For instance, in black notes for the thing left there (or when darkness risks being the forever nocturnal source of light itself, notes two of nine), clear sheet glass panels whole, warped, and broken lay over one another with printed text on transparency film placed in various spaces between them. One way in which Weston is layering visual information is through this topographical approach to installation; a horizontal landscape of isolated moments of glass and textual fragmentation.
In the metanarrative series, Weston approaches a vertical approach to layering visual information in an upward stacking of found masonry to support a series of warped, light tan sheet glass leaning on one another against the wall. In addition, there are moments when these glass sheets withhold imagery and/or text fired on, inscribed into, or trapped within its surface to further punctuate this method of organizing information. Structurally layering visual components up by way of stacking while simultaneously layering graphic information through by way of transparency.
Perhaps the most sophisticated instance of layering information in Weston’s practice exists in an appeal, but, in particular, very expressly, to (i sink), a sound-based installation where the idea of arranging things over things happens in ways both visually and audibly. Laid out in four place settings on the floor, the glass components of this work bypass flatness and enter the realm of three-dimensional fleshiness, slumped so radically that they become inverted, ripple-walled containers; receptacles holding the phantom form of the upended flower pots and vessels used as Weston’s molding to slump the glass over. The layering here is both visually and conceptually rooted; one of absence and presence, a recording of things once there in the past and traces of the phantom image of those things now gone in the present.
All of these observations are fascinating to connect within just these few referenced works. But the notion of layering reveals an even deeper connection with Weston’s research interests; evidence of art thinking about layering that is worth pairing up with an art making that implements it.
If you dig into her website and spend the time this work demands to truly be seen, you will find stated points of reference to ideas, theories, and works published by poets, scholars, and writers of color that act as catalyst for the ideas and processes propelling the artwork that Weston generates. It is here that a term coined by the late Audre Lorde emerges in a statement written by Weston to a 2015 piece called Travelin’ Man; a literary blend and layering of personal memoir, history, and myth referred to as biomythography that tell stories that extend from both the individual and the collective simultaneously. Could Weston’s tendency to similarly blend and layer information in her work be a visual manifestation of this literary tactic? As a comparable creative gesture of weaving material, object, image, and word within the spaces her installations inhabit, it seems so.
To put the notion of layering aside, it should be mentioned that there are many formal aspects in Weston’s work that are as conceptually loaded as they are scholastically informed. And, quite frankly, this article is hardly capable of hitting the tip of a highly sophisticated iceberg that is her creative practice. Material choices and formal motifs consistently approached such as the fold, fragmentation, interiority, concealment, and repetition aren’t just areas of aesthetic dabbling, but creative decisions in her making informed by ideas put forward by scholars/writers such as Stuart Hall, Saidiya Hartman, and James A. Snead. What might seem like a body of work of makeshift arrangements and resolve is actually the result of dedicated research practices and careful planning, presented in a visual means that is serious and somber. Weston’s work and practice are both informed and intentional, even when her making relies on instances of improvisation, chance, or the incidental.
We’re at a strange place. One where a global pandemic is still running rampant in this nation amidst a backdrop of political unrest and continued racial injustice. If there’s anything to be certain of at this moment, it is that it’s a highly uncertain time. And the deep history of racial fracture within this country (even hard-wired into its inception) is still revealing itself as a persistent threat to Black lives and their livelihood in ways both blatantly obvious and systemically nuanced. The world has always been said to be fast-changing; a rapid pace of continual transformation that has produced as many moments of human triumph as it has even more so in human trauma. In turn, Weston’s practice takes on a world of racial civility shattered to pieces and translates those fragmented truths in gestures of remembrance involving glass; a material of inherent risk that speaks of vulnerability, mishandling, and jeopardy in ways too relevant to go unnoticed.
To see and know more about Charisse Pearlina Weston, go here.
David Schnuckel is an artist and educator, currently Assistant Professor within the Glass program at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.