Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of LANGUAGE and examines various ways in which the idea of communication places itself within our field directly and indirectly. The article I submitted went the route of thinking about glass process as linguistic…that the decisions about skill and technique in studio serve as the grammar in which our work “speaks.” Not only did I attempt to describe the vernacular tone of process when glass working is done “right” but also attempting to introduce an idea about when its purposefully done “wrong.” I didn’t want to speak about my work, but I wanted to use peers within the field who share a similar spirit in the experimental (in an exceptionally skillful and thoughtful way) to illustrate glass practices that engage a making language of their own... off the beaten path of common vernacular yet, somehow, still articulate in their own way.
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 Spring 2020 issue of GASnews:
I bring this up for a round-about reason. The experience of thinking on and building a case for my practice as it relates to the theme of language has been one of the most revealing efforts of this weirdo research practice of mine in recent years. So revealing, in fact, that it not only helped me better understand what’s going on in the periphery of my studio efforts, but significantly re-channeled, redirected, and reshaped them. However, the exercise only works when one avoids considering the theme in literal terms and to, instead, think of it in broader, obscurer ones. And these dots I connected between language and glass practice not only produced revelations about my own practice, but of ones that emanate across our field.
It’s important to not think about language within glass practice as a noun as you read on. (Not yet, at least.) Let’s put aside our immediate connections to language within glass as a kind of thing; let’s not dwell on language as a text-based genre of visual art. Let’s instead step towards the rabbit hole that thinks of language as a verb…
Let’s think about language within glass practice as in action; and now let’s think of action as in activating process; and now let’s dwell on process as the means or methods in which we choose (or not choose) to handle glass in our glass making; how we choose to work it (or not work it) as it relates to our making objectives at any given making moment. Let’s think about the systems, rules, and/or protocol we adhere to when we work with glass in a way that feels, looks, and sounds in line with being “right.” What sort of instances can we identify in how “rightness” rules live within our various making relationships to glass?
...Perhaps it’s scientifically-oriented “rightness” rules we’ve come to follow. Ones that enable our glass work to anneal stress-free. Maybe ones about heat that allow our glass to stay intact during its making, or compatibility ones that allow it to stay intact afterwards. Maybe rules we follow to keep our glass free from devitrification. Perhaps there are others we adhere to…
...Perhaps it’s aesthetically-based “rightness” rules we’ve come to follow. Ones that command our glass work to stand perfectly straight and symmetrical when done. Maybe rules we follow to keep our glass free of visible surface blemishes or unwanted bubbles. Maybe rules put in place by our training that obligate us to polish the unfinished surface because “it’s the right thing” to do. And, if we choose to obey it, rules that obligate that polish to be “perfect.” Perhaps there are others we adhere to….
...Perhaps it’s commercially-driven “rightness” rules we’ve come to follow. Ones that strategically place our glass working within an ideal price point for an item’s cost of production. Maybe logistical ones that influence our design, rules that designate the size and weight of our glass vision within an efficient shipping circumstance for it. Maybe rules that ask us to coordinate the color scheme of our work as it relates to official style guides published from season to season. Perhaps there are others we adhere to….
These are just a few examples of probably millions of rules at play in the back of our mind as we’re at work. But it’s in cases like these – whatever rules of “rightness” that we feel obligated to adhere to in our making relationship with glass from time to time – that the role of our glass working procedures are actually quite linguistic. There is a system and a structure within our making decisions in studio that allow our creative objectives to (hopefully) do what we want the work to do, no matter how commercial, ambiguous, traditional, abstract, or whatever we identify our practice as being. In turn, decisions about process and material sensibility - big and small - become the grammatical factors in what the work is speaking to and the nature in how it speaks those things.
But what about the other side of that coin? What about purposeful engagements of “wrongness” in glass working procedure? …and how does that play into this parallel between glass process and language?
A big part of my research as an artist is interested in abstracted language phenomena. I think of interesting deviations from what’s considered “normal” structures of writing and the written word; fascinating visual circumstances such as the palimpsest, asemic writing, or aleatoricism (do give these a Google…). I also think of interesting deviations from what’s considered “normal” structures of speaking and the spoken word; equally fascinating audible circumstances such as echolalia, Dadaist sound poetry, or the phenomenon of speaking in tongues (do give these a Google, too…). These are only a few instances of dismantled language systems of many, but they pare up quite appropriately with a pocket of experimental, process-driven practitioners of purposeful “wrongness” within contemporary glass right now. Practitioners who illustrate how the mishandling of words and the various deviations in writing/speaking them could inform the competent mishandling of glass and the various deviations to “properly” working with it.
For instance, there’s the purposeful integration of problematic inclusions into the surface of large blown shapes in Maria Bang Espersen’s “Things Change.” Each sizable vessel is its own grammatical study in various forms of incompatibility as intrusive rocks are embedded in one form, brick morsels embedded in another, manufactured float glass shards in another. Each object a specimen of eventual ruin, speaking in its own dialect of material conflict and incompatibility based on whichever foreign body it hosts within
The language of purposeful “wrongness” also lies at the intersection where glass art and glass science converge. Especially in the resurrected interest in batch formulation among young glass practitioners; conceptually driven ambitions to cook up experimental glass bodies that place the objects made from them in chance-based circumstances. I think of the syntax error put in place chemically by Nickolaus Fruin in his “Water Soluble Glass Tests #1 and #2.” Two humble tumbler forms made of a melted sodium silicate recipe; exquisitely crafted objects made of a glass body that’s been designed to break itself down when exposed to water. A scientifically-based gesture of cancellation, omission poetry in the form of two failing glass objects revealing themselves anew as they optically and structurally break down.
Beyond ephemerally-based objects made of experimental process, I now think of the parallel between dismantled systems of spoken
I think of the obsessive, redundant actions required of the body as seen in one of the most underwhelming experiences in glass making that grit wheel grinding is. I think of Nathalie Houghton’s “Eons Erosion” as a cold-shop based palilalia; an artwork that seeks to document the repetitive and monotonous act of grinding a glass thing to oblivion. For however long that lasts. An exquisite performative spectacle that lives ironically in the dull, tedious, and unvarying act of wheel grinding.
Neither end of the procedural spectrum is better than the other. Some of us are inclined to build a relationship with glass that dwells in technical methods of “rightness.” Some of us feed off of “wrongness.” And some of us dip from both.
Regardless of our various approaches to
Glass Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.