A New Vernacular:
Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of TECHNOLOGY and measures a wide variety of ways in which technology is influencing contemporary glass. With putting so much thought and effort in developing a paper presented at the 2015 Robert M. Minkoff Foundation Academic Symposium regarding the intersection of glass education and technology, I felt less inclined to pursue an article so directly relating to the theme. However, conversations regarding what happens when digital capabilities become integrated within a field so traditionally tactile and hands-on is definitely an interesting one. It's a conversation regarding transformation: how standard approaches to things can undergo a significant change when colliding with seemingly foreign or unrelated things. In turn, I wanted to examine that conversation within the context of a perfectly timed exhibition that has always stood as both metaphor and measuring stick of change within the international glass field.
For this issue, I traveled to Denmark to write an an illustrative overview of the "Young Glass 2017" exhibition at the Glasmuseet Ebeltoft...one that only happens once every 10 years. Although knowing that the generation represented within the exhibition would be noticeably embracing various technologies in the development and showing of their work, the article also uses that same exhibition to paint a broader picture: a way to describe and speculate upon the evolution of the processes and techniques that have come to epitomize contemporary glass practice.
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 2017 issue of GASnews:
One of the most exciting barometers within contemporary glass provided a new measurement at which the field is expanding this past June. Young Glass 2017 is the fourth installment of a competitively juried exhibition established, organized, and hosted by Glasmuseet Ebeltoft housed in Ebeltoft, Denmark.
Due to these distinctive conditions, Young Glass functions in the short-term as an opportunity to highlight the diversity of approach and accomplishment at which a budding generation of artists and designers challenge and redefine conventional glass practice. In the long-term, the decades in between each Young Glass event noticeably documents the rate at which our field changes from decade to decade; not only from a technical standpoint in what is done with glass and how, but in the evolution of ideas and creative impulse its application is in service to.
Following the opening of Glasmuseet Ebeltoft in 1986, founder Finn Lynggaard shared an interest with several colleagues to initiate a strategy to provide recognition and support for up-and-coming glass workers; one that would also suggest the future of the field as seen in the work of those who could potentially be paving the way. In turn, the first iteration of Young Glass was then launched in 1987, putting forth a call for applications to be reviewed by a jury of established, international glass artists.
The precedent to have a rotating selection committee had then been set to follow in 1997 and again in 2007; ultimately broadening to host jurors who were not only artists, but museum directors, artistic directors, educators, and writers in the field. Jurors for Young Glass 2017 included Susan Warner, Artistic Director at the Museum of Glass (USA), Maja Heuer, Museum Director of The Glass Factory (Sweden), Jeffrey Sarmiento, Artist and Programme Leader of the University of Sunderland (United Kingdom), and Dan Mølgaard, Executive Director of Glasmuseet Ebeltoft (Denmark).
Young Glass 2017 includes 57 artists from 326 applicants, a highly international show representing 18 countries. The work within the show is as equally diverse. No matter the approach in how each exhibition participant had engaged glass within the show, terms like craftsmanship and tradition are as honored as they are challenged.
Even in the case where glass objects are being made, there are instances where glass is utilized as a supplementary material or a component instead of a primary focus within a time-based work (Weinberg). Glass is also being found or – in some particular cases – repurposed; in one example debris resurrected from pulverized uselessness along the bed of a lap wheel to highly purposeful in the formal structure of a work (Thebault).
More often than not, when objects are at play, it’s work that isn’t taking on the shape of identifiable forms or engaging the laborious glory of skill for its own sake. Not because “it’s cheap” as famously noted by our Studio Movement forefather, but because the sophistication of the questions these young artists are asking by way of glass is collectively broader than ever before. Pursuits in “beauty” for the sake of beauty seem passé. “Symbolism” and intentional “meaning” seem dated. Work geared towards the “explicit” or “straightforward” nearly extinct. The legacies of the “easy read” and the “one liner” have evolved into a level of thinking and making that demand more time and consideration in one’s general viewing.
One family of work within the show advances technical capability as equally as it advances the imaginative inquiry that perpetuates it. The other family of work maintains a similar thoughtfulness and complexity of intent, but puts reverence for material, process, skill, and “the object” in the backseat to chance, the experimental, and/or phenomenology. As the scale of artistic vision in Young Glass 2017 indicates new breakthroughs in what working with glass now means, it also showcases a broader vocabulary of ideas and resolve in using it.
The rising popularity between glass and performance, projection, and video are accounted for; non-object works that speak to live action art experience between artist and audience (Roux), multi-media installations projecting the beautifully redundant labors of physical activity (Houghton), and the blatantly tasteless merging of glass disaster and cinephilia (Skrott) are wonderful examples of each respectively.
Even beyond those genres of artmaking are interesting glimpses into the young glass practitioner’s consideration of the body. One approach is in wearable work thinking of glass as fabric, transparent garment as an opportunity to speak towards ideas of exposure and vulnerability (Gonjo). Works culminating in objects, performances, and documentation of the human body performing glass-related tasks (Feracci), engaging common day-to-day occurrences with glass-based extensions (Rikken), or visualizing the negative space of one’s body through blown glass impressions of face and torso (Kudel) also abound.
Speaking of digital tools, new technology is more readily integrated within the work of Young Glass 2017. Aside from what equipment video and projection requires to exhibit work of that nature, manufacturing processes such as water-jet cutting glass (Dickson) and 3D scanning and printing processes (Arday) are a tool that has been added to the young practitioner’s arsenal within a traditionally “hands-on”, tactile field of making. Time-based sensors, motion-activated sensors, kinetics, sound, circuitry and lighting all also becoming standard accessories; not only a counter to the customarily static nature of exhibited glass, but an opportunity to heighten the sensory experience within a viewing of work to places beyond the visual.
To think about what all in the past 10 years has potentially impacted or influenced the direction with which young practitioners are approaching glass in Young Glass 2017 is equally intriguing; educational changes, economic tragedy, industrial shifts, environmental reconsiderations, cultural movements, and influential tremors from contemporary art are just a few potential provocateurs – of regional and international impression. I’m sure there are many more…
Glass Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.