The Fall issue of GASnews is hot off the digital press!
Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of REPRESENTATION and examines the many ways in which this exists in our field, literally and figuratively. For this issue I wanted to make sure we didn’t let the airing of the “Blown Away” competitive television series on Netflix get too far away before giving it a consideration in the newsletter. I approach the theme of REPRESENTATION from an unlikely angle by focusing on the strong reactions to the “Blown Away” television series prior to its airing. Ultimately, the piece is an essay prompted by the premature hysterics posted on various blog spots and social media platforms by some in our community and an effort to think about what these strong reactions "represent" about us as a contemporary glass community.
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 Fall 2019 issue of GASnews:
The word came out around mid-Summer of 2018; a reality show called Blown Away (created and produced by marblemedia) was calling for applicants to participate in the first glass-related competitive television series. A production slated to air first on a Canadian specialty television channel in early 2019, then promised to live on the streaming service leviathan that is Netflix afterwards.
In this 2018 moment of Blown Away’s announcement we were in front of our screens, almost simultaneously conducted nationwide double-takes on what we just read, and immediately placed ourselves along a broad spectrum of response somewhere between deeply concerned and somewhat curious. Some of us scratched our heads at it. Some of us were suspicious. Some of us got up in arms about it. And some of us shrugged our shoulders in a gesture of non-committal optimism.
At first, it seemed like a bizarre collision between two seemingly disconnected artistic worlds; the visual narrative of televised competition and the hand/material creative experience of hot glass working.
Yet, however, what a surprisingly appropriate partnership between a genre of television that’s geared to pull forth spectacle from any circumstance and a process of media-specific making that’s inherently built on flair and dramatics.
The palette of response from our community in between the time of Blown Away’s call for applicants and its production was interesting. Anticipatory thoughts were being posted; speculative opinions being published. Mostly unsupported theories vocalizing impending
doom, calamity, and disaster for perhaps the contestant, but speculative worry aimed more so at the reputation (and perhaps a perceived sanctity?) of the field as a whole.
Meanwhile, time passed. Contestants were discreetly chosen. The thing was shot. The buzz built up. The series aired quietly in Canada (thanks friends!), then loudly dropped on Netflix for the rest of us. The binge watching commenced. Spoilers ran amok the next day. And in a very few short weeks after its July 12th, 2019 release, the Blown Away craze for the glass community had ultimately… vanished. As a cultural phenomenon, it dissipated as fast as it was consumed. But not without lots of interesting conversational tidbits available to chew on and chew over if anybody wanted to after the fact.
And I do....
...because there's a few worth teasing out…
Nothing disastrous has done the honor of the glass community, the culture of the hot shop, or even the standing of the contestants any undoing in the show. So, I can’t help but think back on the essays/posts/blogs written prior to the show’s airing; the ones written with voices rich with pessimism and dread and assumed catastrophe...all neatly cloaked under a hyperactively virtuous (vitreous?) “state of concern”:
Oh my god, will it compromise the efforts of contemporary glass to be
seen as a credible platform for serious art making?
Oh my god, what will words like “winner” and “champion” in
relation to a broader art conversation imply to a non-artist viewer?
Oh my god, blah blah blah blah blah...?
The show (and even the idea of it) might not have been our collective cup of tea, but it wasn’t remotely close to being the saboteur of taste and integrity to our field as was heavily prophesied so early on. In fact, I was (and am) less concerned about being embarrassed by the show as I was (and am) at the heavy-handedness of its wildly unfounded criticisms prior to its airing. And, now that I think about it, even the ones posted and published here in the afterwards of its Netflix drop.
In turn, I’ve been going out of my way to build several cases for Blown Away. Not for what it is as a television series, but in its function as a barometer of sorts; a clearly underestimated device that I see as a tool to help identify and gauge various aspects of cultural phenomena within our field that have surfaced because of it. Talking points not directly involving the content of Blown Away, but ones revolving around its existence altogether. For instance, here’s what this “the sky is falling” mode of approach towards the show tells me about us:
Overdramatic reactions to Blown Away (before, during, and after…) reveal that we glass people love
In fact, I’m delightfully demonstrating that right now in writing this piece (…and, by the way, loving every minute of it).
I’m sensing a bit of portraiture in the form of a two-sided coin that Blown Away is putting forth about us as a community in a roundabout way. To be fair to all of us who have strong opinions about the series in one way or another, one of the best things about us Blown Away revealed to me was that, despite conflicting points of view as a community, we universally hold strong to our glass-related convictions. As aggravating as it can be when our opinions collide, the saving grace is that, ultimately, it indicates that the common denominator is that we care (quite passionately so) about this discipline that we’ve committed our time, energy, and, quite possibly, a significant part of our lives to.
In turn, almost ironically, one of the worst things about us Blown Away revealed (both in our responses to it and even demonstrated in the show itself) is that we take ourselves, what we do, and what we’re a part of as glass people way, way too seriously at times.
The thought of representation in this “reality television series” paradigm is an interesting one. I was never concerned with whether or not Marblemedia or Netflix or Nick Uhas and the crew would misrepresent us, the
any compromise to his creative property, any threat to the integrity of his studio practice, or that of the glass field at large. If chosen
to participate in the show he would have definitely been eliminated very early on.