Juror's Essay (first draft from mid-March 2020 )
I learned a lot in writing for the Review. And I learned that the way I would normally approach writing blurbs or essays do not translate well for all writing-based scenarios. For instance, the fact that I couldn't assume the reader knows glass and its terminology the way I do hadn't been a reality on my radar. The fact that there are different tiers of reading comprehension of those who engage this publication hadn't been a reality on my radar. The fact that there would be a lot of readers whose primary language is not English hadn't been a reality on my radar. The fact that my thoughts are not as clear to others as they seem to be for me OFTEN hadn't been a reality on my radar. In turn, the editing process was rigorous...and to accommodate all these things (and others like them) was an informative part of the process for me. I'm grateful for the experience of going through revision after revision with Silbert. It has made me a better self-editor in my writing ever since...
In fact, I knew going into my first draft of the Juror's Essay that there wasn't much space available for it in the publication...it was crystal clear that the essay would need to be capped off at 500 words. Which isn't much. Especially for a rambling essayist such as myself. So, as a starting point, I allowed myself to write and write and write everything that was on my heart and mind regarding the jurying process, things I was paying attention to within the field over the past year (as both artist and educator), and where the moment might suggest where the field is going. I permitted myself to open the valve entirely and empty everything I wanted onto the page...just to see where it all landed. And then from there, rule number two would be to chisel it down in a smaller second draft (which was still huge) and then an even smaller third draft (which was still too big). The fourth draft was whittled down to 1000 words and was the one submitted for Susie Silbert's review and edits...which, of course, had to get chopped down even more.
Ultimately, the essay that i drafted first back in mid-March was roughly 3300 words...which is not even close to the 500 cap I was required to abide by. A classic Schnuckel move. So the Juror's Essay of mine you may have read in New Glass Review 41 is the surviving content to a much larger piece that was simply too big to fit.
Below is the draft of that essay in full...for better or for worse. In it you'll find grammatical mishaps and misspellings. You'll run into a handful of clunky spots. You'll find the occasional derail or two (or three). But you'll also get access to a broader consideration of my role and my perspective as a visiting selector to the Review than what the content in the publication would indicate.
Please read in good health. And I mean that...especially as we linger even still within a global pandemic...
In turn, it is important for me to indicate that my selection process was not in pursuit of supporting submissions that I necessarily “liked.” That wasn’t a metric for me. I didn’t approach this as a process of highlighting what I prefer or what I personally relate to in glass making and/or glass thinking, but as an effort to keep an eye out for submissions that represented an interesting quirk, conversation point, or important contribution to the field in this time and place with what work had been submitted.
To assist that mission, I made the effort to only support submissions from artists who had not been recognized within the past 3 issues of the Review. Although difficult to pass by notable work by makers and thinkers I deeply admire in holding to this 3-year rule, it was important for me to use this opportunity to put my initials behind artists on the outer margins of our field who are enriching this moment that I didn’t want to get overlooked.
Aside from that caveat, the work I responded to didn’t follow a uniform logic. In fact, the work I stand behind within this publication reflects many contradictions with one another. For instance, now looking back at my selections, I’m noticing a draw to ideas that implement polished excellence as a means to challenge those very things; but I’m also noticing a draw to ideas that rely on raw, loosely guttural methods of questioning, too. I’m see moments where I’m drawn to ideas where artists know glass so well that their effort to break its rules speaks of something provocative in equally spectacular fashion; but I’m also seeing moments where I’m drawn to ideas where the artist comes to glass formally untrained and, in turn, enables something accidentally innovative because of it. I found resonance and strength in quiet gestures. But I was also captivated by efforts where spectacle intersected with smart. It seems that I’m just as much a proponent for work that transcends glass making protocol as I am work that purposefully distances itself from it, dismantles it…even displaces it. Whether put forward as a visually complicated installation of things or a singular art object, these are just some of the various camps and categories of work included in the publication that compose the spectrum of what captured my attention. Even as incongruent as my selections seem to be with one another, however, I do sense one common denominator...
If there is a tie that binds all the submissions that I connected with most it would be that each work collectively grounds itself in the present, but not without a recognition of the histories it extends from…and, in turn, presenting themselves as unexpected starting points to new trajectories and future advancements to both glass making and glass thinking.
Some of my favorite moments in the field right now reside in work and research that doesn’t involve glass within its resolve, yet is manifested through ideas related to glass process and/or materiality. In a piece pursued from the hot shop assistant’s perspective, Josie Gluck illustrates this in pyrographic prints composed by the cast-off bits delivered for avolios in the production of stemware. The repeated gather and delivery of glass for the avolio serves as a method of mark-making in an abstracted gesture of cartography. The bit is discarded after delivery onto paper, falling however and wherever it might upon it. The measured and mechanically repeated step of the avolio process for the gaffer lends way to a wide variety of chance-based, combustion-prompted imagery for Gluck after the bit has been cast away.
In an entirely different way, Shari Mendelson illustrates an interesting relationship to glass in considering it as a conceptual propellant culminating in a body of non-glass work. In this case, historical referencing and trompe l’oeil direct Mendelson’s upcycling of discarded plastics littering her neighborhood into exquisite deceptions of just about any vessel we’ve ever seen housed within the Greek, Islamic, and Roman chapters of an art history book. Conceptual parallels run abundantly within this glass-adjacent work between her objects and those of historical standing; parallels between materiality and making processes between glass and plastics; parallels navigated between commercial manufacturing and the independent making practice. In turn, this work holds a lens to ideas of the remnant and serves as a gesture to redirect the destiny of industrially-produced plastics from contemporary litter-hood towards one of the contemporary artifact.
The many ways in which glass is being engaged directly right now that appeals to me mostly culminates in work that poses questions, not work that gives answers. Even when work relies on text and the literality of common phrasing. David Fox navigates abstracted ideas about language and coherency where words reveal themselves in a peculiarly glass-centric way; ways in which the hand-torch serves as pen and borosilicate tubing serves as page. Although invisible to the human eye, the memory of the written message is rendered visible through remembered strain and stress when subjected to a polariscope. What is said is much more conceptually layered than it lets on. And what is unsaid is mysteriously just as expressive and articulate.
Previous performance work by Kim Harty that translated the glass objects catalogued in the publication of Old Venetian Glass (1960) through slow-exposure light drawings of them is re-contextualized in her 2019 exhibition Memoria Technica. A conceptual work of translation in 2015 begets even further translation within the past year – perhaps even coming full circle – in the effort to give selected light drawings a tangible life in thingness again under two fronts: in one, the digital hand meticulously renders a 3D print of the drawn vessel. In the other, the human hand attempts to recreate the drawing in the hot shop. In Harty’s case, historical glass is the pivot point in this continued exploration of mimicry by memory through various translation tactics in studio.
In another instance where performance art intersects with glass practice, Judith Roux navigates an interesting angle to the notion of participatory work in The Space Between Us – My Warm Breath on Your Hands. A humble sheet of sandblasted glass serves as a translucent divide between the performer and the unsuspecting audience participant holding it. Efforts by the performer to expel hot breath or to lick the porous surface are in the hopes of establishing visible access to the participant on the other side – a perfect stranger – who is powerless to help as their side is still glossy and transparent. As a work that is one part messy, one part sexual, one part jinxed, and all parts vulnerable, Roux’s integration of glass is a very simple component to a provocatively ambitious interactive work driven by notions of desire and connection.
It should be mentioned that as I write this essay for the Review, it is late March of 2020. I am quarantined here in the US, as is most of the world. The jurying process for this publication was just a hair over a month ago and yet the current day-to-day conditions of a COVID-19 reality make it seem that those few days spent in Corning were a lifetime ago. In this moment studios are shut down. Schools have gone online. Grocery shopping now gives us anxiety. Some of our jobs are now done from home. Some of us are now unemployed. Exhibitions have been postponed. Exhibitions have been cancelled. Summer programming at various summer-based glass institutions are up in the air. Some of us are sick. Some of us are scared. It’s a lot. And the level of uncertainty regarding just about everything as we move further and further into a life contextualized by a pandemic is the space where I’ve been writing this essay within.
Writing this piece for the Review has given me an unexpected sense of calm. It has allowed me to dwell in the past tense; to write about an incredibly fulfilling and informative professional experience as a juror this past February in a time when life was what we’d describe as “normal.” (And to dwell in the past tense at the moment is an unexpected perk of this required writing, for sure.) But the quiet, the solitude, and the almost inactive status of a making practice while in quarantine has given me many moments of pause to consider the impact of this moment of lockdown on the future trajectory of glass. Both short- and long-term.
For those of us who identify as artists who engage a practice where glass is a major component of our creative output, we know that we are a very high-maintenance kind of practitioner. Our making is based on a very hands-on, tactile working experience with material; one that is as high-maintenance as we are. Glass is a substance that relies on a very specific set of resources like specialized tools, equipment, and facility spaces to make the magic happen (…or the mess that may or may not lead to said “magic”). There are some of us who are self-sufficient on the resources front; those of us who have our own gear and our private studios and spaces to fill the time in quarantine with continued artistic output. Kudos to you. Go forth and slay. But there are perhaps a greater number of us who relied on having access to spaces and studios that have been closed down and, as part of the residual effect of the national lockdown, finding ourselves deserted as glass practitioners.
In turn, I think about what kind of glass practice could be happening if a field like ours is cut off from the studio resources we typically rely on to conduct our work. Maybe some of us have been locating areas in our glass practice that could step in and take priority with what we know we can do from home: conceptual development through reading and research, formal development through drawing or digital rendering, writing, resume updating, or website redesign to name a few. Maybe some of us are locating alternative ways of creatively relating to glass without being able to “make” with it: maybe through capturing moments of glass-like phenomena through items found around the home with our phone or tinkering with glass-related processes that translate well in the kitchen (i.e. casting objects in ice in the freezer). Or maybe as one door closes another door opens; maybe some of us will be redirecting our expertise as makers into unanticipated career paths as published writers, sponsored podcasters, digital curators, or digital workshop teachers. But maybe some us just can’t right now, allowing ourselves to sit in a creative holding pattern until brighter days…
It is no doubt that as glass-specific people, some of us being denied access to our usual resources can be seen as a real deal-breaker in our creative development and output. But, as a closeted optimist, I see this lockdown as a glass-making equivalent of constrictive writing. How many ways can those of us glass folks up for the challenge cultivate some sense of critical engagement with glass in this current moment of constriction and uncertainty? What innovative projects might accidentally be developed in response to some of us who feel shipwrecked and stranded? How far off the beaten path of conventional “glass practice” will those things take us? …and how could these constrictive gestures possibly change everything we thought we understood glass, glass making, glass teaching, and glass learning were all about? It’s a thought ripe with many yet-to-be-discovered solutions to the question as to how a glass artist maintains a practice – and a relationship with glass – when stripped of access to both a studio and to a material while under lockdown.
Whether this is to be something short-term or long-term, it’s safe to assume that we’ll all come out of this COVID-19 experience as different makers and/or thinkers. Some of our evolutions may be enriched by this moment and its many limitations. Some may suffer. Some may cease altogether. My heart does break for those in our field whose livelihood relies entirely on orders, exhibitions, fellowships, teaching, and residencies that are now cancelled or put on indefinite hold; opportunities that were needed to keep their head above already turbulent waters whose sole occupation is that of an independent artist. But as I wrap up this essay, looking out my window into an overcast day in late March of 2020, I catch a tinge of hope for what might possibly turn out to be one of the most interesting moments within our field at the hands of artists, educators, and students who are naturally wired to make good use of a bad situation; folks with a knack for finding opportunity in limitation. I’m curious how sudden studio abandonment might possibly cultivate some sort of unforeseen innovation within our field. In whatever way that might mean...
So, to bring back around the Review, I’m curious how this moment might rub off on the international glass field for those game to play along in this confined creative space we find ourselves in. I’m curious how this moment will be archived in the upcoming New Glass Review 42...hoping that, regardless of whether or not we are possibly STILL under quarantine through next February or not, the publication will still continue. If so, I’m curious about the contextual framework of how the Coronavirus impacts the work created within the dates of eligibility for the next issue. I’m curious how it will impact what work is submitted to the Review…and how diversified the notion of glass practice will manifest itself in those submissions through works which may have nothing to do with glass literally, but extend from glass figuratively through non-glass materials and methodologies. I’m curious what jurors will be invited in knowing that the game might’ve drastically changed because of the pandemic directly and indirectly; that a year in glass production not only may have been significantly affected by the virus by the time the call for applications roll out, but perhaps redefined “glass production” in ways that transcend glass, glass making, and glass art as we’ve previously defined those things as. I’m curious if the jurors will be chosen not only for their respective expertise, but the eyes to potentially see “glass” in a highly abstracted or figurative sense in the case that a lot of us within the field might be tasked to reinterpret a glass practice through non-glass means. I’m curious if that’ll even be allowed. I would hope so, and if true, I’m curious not only about what would be submitted, but what kinds of non-glass-but-glass-like work would be seen as fit for inclusion...
But beyond the notion of being a resourceful artist under quarantine or speculating on the next issue of New Glass Review as influenced by the pandemic, I’m curious how COVID-19 will impact our various practices once life gets back to normal. And, for now, I still assume it will. Whether we flatten the curve or a vaccine is approved or a cure is discovered, I wonder what happens when we can return to the studios we were separated from and the equipment, tools, and materials we used to know and work with so well. Do we still make the things we make? ...like nothing happened? Have our questions changed that motivate our practice in the time away? As technicians, how rusty will we be? What will our bodies and hands forget? What of our processes will be remembered? Will I ever put my mouth to a blow pipe ever again? What will these small malfunctions hinder us from doing? …but what could they possibly enable instead?
I expect that we will not be the same artist we were before the pandemic global hold, but, if we choose to stay the course, we will still be artists nonetheless. Ones who were forced to take an interesting detour from what we would normally do and, quite possibly, gaining new recognition in a practice that deviates from what we were originally all about or normally known for. There’s something kind of magical in anticipating just what that might be or how it might unfold. After all, an artist isn’t defined by what one can do, but how one can adapt. And, quite honestly, the job we as artists are truly tasked with is to make something meaningful out of any given moment, whether that be with things or circumstances. Especially in the thick of inconvenience…
Just how long will we be on lockdown? …and how will we facilitate some sort of pro-active effort to continue evolving our practice and relationship to glass in this moment? ...a moment when our usual resources just aren’t available? Time will tell. And who knows…perhaps this solitary life and livelihood will be lifted a week or two after I submit this essay to Silbert in early April. Perhaps this moment is just a tiny glitch within the calendar year and we will all look back on it relieved that it was so short lived…almost as if it were only a bad dream. But maybe it’ll last the rest of the year. Or longer. Yikes. Regardless, I suppose this is a long way of saying that I hope some of us provide models of innovative response to a constricted glass practice due to this global hiccup when included in New Glass Review 42.
I am so, so honored to have participated in the 41st issue of New Glass Review. I’ve studied the publication since first submitting to it back in 2002 and have thumbed through issue after issue many times over in my 20 year relationship with glass. I have been a student of its structure, its tradition, and its annual mission to observe and archive a year’s worth of advancements to the field. I’ve even made the trek to the Rakow many times over just to look into the work that didn’t get in within its archives…even when submissions were only accepted in slide form. For I know the sting of the Review’s rejection; applying 15 years in a row before knowing what acceptance feels like. Only to have the legacy of rejection pick back up the following year (and has continued even up to this present moment). I know that the Review is a public and permanent document that some people place a lot of personal and professional currency in by being published within it. I also know that it warrants a lot of doubt, cynicism, and/or objection directed at the jurors by those who didn’t. All this is to say that, ultimately, I knew (and know) the weight of this responsibility that I took on as a juror to lend my voice and my perspective in making selections for it this year. And I took the honor seriously.
In hopes of gracefully winding this essay down, I want to publicly acknowledge the leadership of Susie Silbert in guiding us jurors through the process as being so effectively and efficiently on point. It is important for me to be a mouthpiece to the broader glass community in saying that the organization, preparedness, and support of The Corning Museum of Glass staff was truly the epitome of professionalism and excellence in this experience. Thank you Silbert and All for this opportunity to bear witness to the most under-acknowledged aspects of this annual forum. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes before, during, and after the selection process that is thoroughly unknown to almost the entirety of our international community. Your dedication in facilitating it in the way that you do is both efficient and masterful…and I am humbled to have been a witness to it. Although the world primarily sees the New Glass Review as but a competition, the time spent behind the curtain confirms that it is better described as an annual act of care than an annual contest. The field owes you a lot of kudos and gratitude in orchestrating this huge annual undertaking.
-David Schnuckel (DS)