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The Glass Art Society conference took place in Corning this year. I was fortunate to attend, met many old friends and made many new ones. From the moment I arrived there was an invisible energy permeating through the air. Everywhere one found yourself there was bound to be somebody connected to creative glass ready to share some friendly words on where you’re from, what you do and more.

Day one started as a pre-conference event, a round table discussion on education and the roll history of glass plays in current curricula. Former board members, critics, historians, curators, department heads, educators, professors, artists, schools, students, experts and even collectors joined in the discussion. Afterwards we got a behind the scenes tour of the Rakow Research Library. I would wager that most answers to glass related questions can be found here!

I forgot to mention, earlier on day one Lino Tagliapietra was making glass at the Museum hot shop amphitheatre. The Maestro was hands-on throughout, constantly keeping his glass under control, from choosing the canes laid out to pulling and twisting of the dinosaur’s neck. Amazing!

As the round table discussion was a pre-conference event, day two was actually the first day of the conference. The welcoming reception took place at The Rockwell Museum with a beautiful setting overlooking the town of Corning from the top floor balcony. The conference started with a bang!

The days were filled to the brim fromThursday till Saturday. There were talks and demos, in the hot shops, cold shops, lamp working studios, and even lec-mos (hybrid for lecture-demos) in the town’s movie theatres. Panel discussions at Corning Headquarters and the Corning High School auditorium. Evening events in town with the Crystal City Stroll where public light sculptures were exhibited all around town and galleries showed cutting edge contemporary art. Silent and live auctions with works donated by artists help fund GAS.

On Saturday the closing party highlight event, the Glass Fashion Show curated by Lorna Doneffer got everybody fired up and shaking bootie on the dance floor. It was almost sad to say goodbye that night.

Sunday was my first opportunity to walk through the museum, slowly. I spent two days traversing the expansive display of where glass came from, how it got here and where it might take us next.

Monday evening was laundry night and Tuesday morning it was off to New York City…

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Tofo, Mozambique

It was probably one of the best days out ever, traveling on a dhow from Barra to Pansy Island where we snorkelled and then enjoying a local lunch on Pig Island (Ilha dos Porcos).

Paulo, our guide, introduced himself to us earlier in the week. Engaging us with his friendly demeanour he outlined the boat trip with snorkelling and a lunch, which we have been wanting to do since the first time we came to Tofo in 2008. Taking his contact details we agreed to set a date.

When on holiday, time seems long and schedules irrelevant. Suddenly one realises that the trip home is around the corner and even if the weather is crummy with a chance sunshine one should take the gap and see more than just the confines of the little holiday town. Good call!

At 08:25 the bakkie was here to pick us up. Leaden clouds framed the horizon with a crispy edge in the air. Nevertheless, our spirits where high and everyone tumbled into the back. The trip to Barra was long and cold and without any expectations. I even asked Paulo of the ship has life vests and he gave me a quizzical look, as if I spoke a foreign language.

Driving through coconut forests on twisting sand roads past derelict lodges I could not but feel being in a tropical thunder type of movie – surreal… We arrived at the launch where several dhows were waiting. Several other tourists were also there, mostly coming in their own vehicles.

The beauty of no expectations is that everything becomes part of the journey, the experience. Paulo kept on telling us some history of the lodges, especially the empty ones. It sounds like there are problems in Mozambique emanating from renewed political upheavals and unrest further up North (probably connected to the financial benefits of the gas deposits found off shore in Beira). These turmoils don’t visibly permeate our tourist environment. (Although I am sure there are many more conversations flowing beneath the perceptible surface)

Boarding the dhow we got introduced to our captain, Mandito. The clouds were still menacing but our spirit of adventure positively filled our sails. The dhow was simple with a long bamboo holding up the lateen and scattered planks providing a floor. Nimble hands got us off on our cruise, floating over a forest of sea urchins.

Our first stop: Pansy Island. The name comes from the many pansy shells found on this sandbank island, which emerges only on low tide. Deftly manoeuvring his ship with just the wind and rudder, captain Mandito pulled us close into the bank where we disembarked. Paulo brought a whole box filled with snorkelling gear (masks, snorkels and fins) for all to kit up. My foot was still sore from a shattering bump earlier in the week and the fins wouldn’t have fit in any case on my size 13’s.

Off we went! At first it was slow to enter the crystal clear water. It was still cold. Within minutes the skies cleared and distracted by the multitude of shells, corals and fish swimming with us at an arm length’s distance the coldness was soon forgotten. We were searching for the famous seahorses which unfortunately stayed illusive. Instead we saw scorpion fish, stone fish, clown fish, crabs, crayfish, other fish, stars, tube worms and even a little octopus. It was beautiful! The children loved it as did us big ones.

Then it was off to the next destination, Pig Island. Sailing past the sand banks we saw many many people bent over in the water picking muscles and gathering them in floating buckets. As Paulo informed us, this is the community collecting food, for themselves and for the market.

On Pig Island, which is named after all the pigs farmed there centuries ago, we got a traditional lunch of deep fried fish, rice, tomatoes and onions, a delicious cassava sauce made from the leaves called mapharinia, chips, clams and pickled muscles. We took some beers along to wash it all down.

After lunch Paulo took us for a personal tour of the island. There are about 1500 inhabitants. We met the three teachers at the little school with 200 children. The soccer field and market place was next to that. We walked through the coconut palms to a small clinic past the church. Ironically there were many pigs too, tied up to trees and some in pens. Chickens occasionally crossed the paths, some looking a little disheveled.

On our way out Paulo introduced us to the chief of the island, Eric. A pleasant man wearing a grey coat. He greeted us all in broken English. It was the end of the day and he said time for a beer and then rest. (Actually he sat down after we left to do the books of the days earnings.)

And so our day was winding down. The sun was low and the tide high when we left Pig Island. Sailing back the captain decided to gun it over Pansy Island, which was now submerged beneath the swells – a short cut, if you like. Paulo had a good chuckle as we neared White Sands on the other side of the lagoon as many of the other tourists had parked their cars close to the launch and will have to wait till much later for the tide to ebb before being able to drive back through the low lying areas.

The sun was setting as we disembarked into the warm waters of the mangrove. It was gorgeous! The proverbial cherry on top of a wonderful day with friendly people and nature in Africa.

You can contact Pualo Gwambe on +258 84 52 345 68 or +258 82 39984 51

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Its Saturday evening in New York, Meatpackers district to be more precise. My journey started at the beginning of this month, first stopping in Germany, where I visited Samuel and Ilona in Schiesheim.
This was the first leg of my epic glass tour across two continents. Whilst in D-land Sam was so kind to take me to Hadamar, to visit our School where we did our apprenticeship. By the sounds of it the Schleifferei has no current students. This is rather worrying and indicates a stagnant growth of qualified cold workers coming through this particular avenue.
When I was last in Europe, during 2011, there were already hints towards this trend. And not only in Hadamar but also in the Czech Republic. It looks like this might be due to various aspects. Economics possibly being the highest ranking factor, as most students and parents can’t see how you’ll pay the bills after three years of study / apprenticeship.
These are personal opinions but the fact is that the fires of my trade are waning. The masters are passing and us few, Samuel included, are the current torchbearers. I want to see more flames emerge behind me though.
That is also one of the reasons I planned this trip, this epic glass journey across the world. I want to see what the international state in glass, in creative and artistic glass currently is.
It is not all gloom though. Hadamar has opened it Glasmuseum to the public after several years of uncertainty. I was very fortunate to have a private tour through the rooms with Wolfgang Hofmann and Willi Pistor, who both took time off to share personal interpretations and anecdotes on the displayed works and artists.
The rooms of the museum are in a wing of the Hadamar renaissance palace with original renovated ceiling paintings and friezes. The most impressive though are the detailed inlaid wooden floors. One has to wear puffy felt overshoes when entering the space to avoid damage to the floors.
In contrast to the classical interior, modern, well lit rectangular monoliths of plate glass, metal and wood house the museum’s historic and contemporary collection. These displays, although angular and almost alien to the rest of the classic opulence in the rooms, seemed subdued and welcoming, inviting visitors to view their contents.
And what a selection there is! With examples of ancient roman glass to works from past masters who taught at the Erwin-Stein-Schule. Each cabinet dedicated to a person or theme. I am proud to say that some of the masters in the permanent collection such as Josef Welzel and Willi Pistor were my mentors.
The museum also has rotating exhibits which include retrospects as well as contemporary shows throughout the year.

 

Then there was Schiesheim…

Samuel Weisenborn probably has one of the most comprehensive private cold working studios in Europe. His selection of wheels and disks is close to endless and with several machines all running smoothly this studio can tackle large and small scale projects over and above the knowledge and skills Samuel has to offer.
I couldn’t just idly sit around and had to “test drive” his space. In the store I found an obsolete project which Samuel was kind enough to pass on to me to scratch my creative itch. It was such a pleasure spending a whole day in the studio and “shooting from the hip”, making a little Schiesheim Session Sculpture.

Thank you to everybody who made the few days in Germany special, especially Sam and Ilona!

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Today is April Fools day, the first quarter of the year done and dusted. With the new day dawns a new future. I am invigorated and feel strong, for that is what’s needed to set off, on the next leg of our journey – hope.
The past few weeks have been a blurred dance, keeping pace with the constant rhythm of setting things into motion, future projects and exciting travels.
The first is coming on strong! Africa Burn. Packing details are already swirling in my head. Before we know it the road is under our butts, flitting like a black ribbon behind us.
Before then there is still much to do, as always is the case. Standing still allows moss to grow on your heels. Keep moving…
As I was saying last night at an exhibition opening to a friend, the process, the movement, motion and action of making, keeping the momentum has become integral to my creative journey. The actual object or artwork is merely the full-stop to the paragraph of doing. In a way my artistic aspirations have become part of my everyday actions.
Take this writing; I am formulating my thoughts, thoughts about my actions. Conversely these writings feed back into the loop of making, understanding my process. I’m building a feedback loop. Resonating abstract thoughts into physical pixilated words.
Lots of big words and garbled sentence structures don’t necessarily make good art.
This administrative side, of writing and editing, organising and conversing with institutions and people sometimes frustrates me. As soon as I get a gap I run to the studio to commence making. Through this madness and limited time the moments of reflection are short, focused and force me to just make, to use all I have learned before and jump, almost without really knowing how far or deep the waters are from this precipice of the now.
Jump!

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The Silverstone Caricatures are new sculptures currently on show in my solo exhibition, “Air” at Art Lovers 1932.

I have been combining rocks, steel and glass for some time now, consciously giving each element a roll in the theatre of sculptural narrative.
The rock is solid, strong and ancient. It is a part of this silica crust we dwell on with a history exceeding even life, as we know it, by far. In this sense it is telling a story, informing the spectator of the randomness, nae, chaos the cosmos contains.
Lifting the stone and appropriating it for my intended use as an element in a larger story I contextualise the seemingly arbitrary thing that was lying around. I personally feel that the simplicity of this act reveals the power we as humans have, to terraform our environment to suit our desires. This thought echoes throughout human history, from primitive stone tools to modern architecture.
In my latest series of exploits, the “Silverstone Caricatures”, I take this concept even further. Completely covering the stones with silver spray paint I change their ancient history, scars, surface with immediate effect. It almost feels like sacrilege when I spray them… but then again large amounts of earth are torn up and pulverised every minute all over the world. Ironic?
Drilling holes has been part of my larger rock projects which I am continuing with these smaller sculptures. Inserting and bending steel rods I use structural logic to attach my lenses.
Metaphorically the lenses play the roll of sight, of seeing or observing. But, who is observing? Is it the painted rock looking at us or are we scrutinising the rock?
These individual lenses are the pivot point on which my concept hinges. They create the portal between both parties, initiating the narrative and conversation between both observers.
I intentionally use the phenomenon of pareidolia, eliciting a reaction of animating the inanimate, giving it “life” through interaction by the spectator.
It all sounds so serious but as a matter of fact I am having fun. I hope to instil the same emotion of quirkiness and childhood discovery through my sculptures for the spectator that I experience.

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Air – A Solo Exhibition

Air opened last Friday. After many weeks, days and hours everything in my head congealed into physicality. I am happy.
The exhibition was opened by Samuel Isaacs, with wise and positive incantations.
Now there seems to be a hiatus, a break in the process. And it is exactly this process which has become important to me. The process has been a personal journey to fulfil my desire of making, of creating that idea from merely a chemo-electrical impulse lingering inside the cranium into a tangible thing.
All spectators at the opening night were pleasantly engaged within the space. Several patrons said that they loved the interaction, being drawn in and experiencing the within and beyond offered by the contained landscapes and immediacy I created.
Apart from the photographs (which are intended as reference and focal points for the Portals to the subject, “Air”) the spectators themselves played with the Portals lenses, peering and giggling at each other. Another intended spinoff was photography, people taking shots with their digital phones of each other and themselves. Even the chosen format of the photographs and the Portals themselves echo the square shots on Instagram and other social media channels.
The difference though is a sense of immediacy and not the quick consumption of second hand experiences.
Before entering the room an eye peers into the show and sets the scene, to look and experience. A fan moves air which in turn starts moving all the elements inside the exhibition space – photos fluttering and sculptures swaying.
The theme is serious. Air is invisible. It is life sustaining. We forget about it.
Air influences our weather, our quality of life, we all breath it in and exhale, irrespective of our social standing, race, health or age. We even share its molecules with other species and without air nothing living would survive on this planet.
Then why? Why do we neglect to look after it?
My inspiration came during a trip to Dubai last year. I noticed the inside spaces within buildings having a cooler, more comfortable air than outside. My attention was drawn to feeling, experiencing the invisible. I started taking a very conscious interest in ducts and fans. Also the movement of air, inside artificial spaces, and when exiting, outside. I still do.

For those that can, please make a turn past Art Lovers 1932 in Pretoria#AirExhibition will run till 24 Marc 2016

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The Aether is a “classical” element. It is that unattainable stuff that our planet floats in and in which light used to propagate throughout the cosmos.
Aether is also the air of gods, the clear, fresh sky as in Greek mythology. It is the inexplicable Zeug between you and I which we can feel as a breeze caressing our cheeks, but yet cannot see, taste or physically grasp.
Aether has an air of ancient spirituality to it. The age of modern science and analytical experimental research has changed all that. Its etherial meaning has been quantified into joules, knots and wavelengths.
The Aether has been given quantifiable Substance.

This is a pretext in which I have been delving for the past several years, that cusp between science and art, between history and presence, the real and the surreal.

My work explores these aspects of the here and there, consciously wanting the spectator to partake in a first-hand experience through the optical media of glass, juxtaposing our contemporary trend of consuming second-hand information through the battery operated lenses in our hands. (…and maybe even offering an alternative window to the spiritual…)

There also is a trend in my work which refers directly to my personal environment. Living next to an informal settlement with ca. 3000 people housing in tin shacks I am influenced by the immediacy of making due with what one has. I am using parts in my sculptures found around my studio such as rocks, wire, steel and even off-cut shards of glass.

These seemingly worthless objects and materials are reappropriated, given new life. Intervening in each part of the sculpture; by polishing facets or cutting patterns in the glass; straightening steel wires; drilling holes into rocks; I am adding value to the banality of the object. Combining these individual elements I instil a narrative which conforms to my initial concept – the immediacy of experience within our everyday lives.

Each sculpture is an individual step in this visual journey I am on. They are small interventions to rekindle that Aha! moment we all so desperately hunt for, but rarely experience in this thicket of visual overload.

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“Kuruvinda” is the title of my latest optical sculpture. The title of a work of art is always a very personal interpretation. It gives the new born creation a name to enter this world, to communicate it’s character or an abstract message from the maker.

“Kuruvinda” is the Sanskrit name for ruby which is the colour of the laminated sheet of hand made Murano sheet glass at its base. Why Sanskrit? No particular reason other than Kuruvinda being an unusual and exotic sounding name with cryptic references to my trade, its history and tools. Corundum, another name for ruby and a naturally found mineral is extremely hard, 9 on the Mohs scale of hardness whereas diamond is ten. It is used as an abrasive as it can scratch almost any other softer mineral. I use corundum wheels to decoratively cut my glass… and it has been used as such for millennia.

But then the work also needs to speak for itself. The title is merely a facet of the whole. As an artist you need to instil your personality and confidence into the intended work. The artwork becomes an extension of you, one aspect of the journey you are on.

Once the sculpture is “on stage” for an audience to critically engage with the spectacle it embodies, the story takes form. I link my work to many references, like instruments and voices in a musical ensemble, combining glass, light, stone, steel and sometimes wood in harmony; and sometimes also in disharmony. There are hints to my intentions but I very much enjoy an ambiguous narrative. This allows the spectator to experience the work on their own terms and diversifies its existence through their interpretations.

The nuances are always so subtle that it is almost impossible for everyone to see or experience my optical anomalies exactly the same way.

My sculptures could be likened to music for the eyes.

You are invited to attend the opening and exhibition of contemporary South African Glass Art titled:

 

Thresholds (in)between Glass curated by Thabang Monoa at Art It Is.
Opening: 04 February 2016 18:00 by Dr. Ingram Anderson.
Participating artists: Martli Jansen van Rensburg, Retief van Wyk, Mike Hyam, Liesl Roos, Iwan van Blerk, Ryan Manuel, Greg Miller, Lothar Böttcher, Thabang Monoa, Kgotso Pati, Pfunzo Sidogi, Rina Myburgh, Marileen van Wyk, Bongani Dlamini and Chonat Getz.

 

Art It Is – 011 447 9176 admin@artitis.co.za

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Air, The Aether That Sustains Us

Lothar Böttcher
Late 2015

“Air”

It’s the stuff in your lungs right now. It’s the tempest sinking ships. It lifts the rainbow and the smell of freshly fried onion. It makes you dance…

Air is the substance in which we all find ourselves. We sustain our journey in life through air.

Mere ramblings of semi-poetic cliches will be uttered should I continue this path of describing our little, thin layer of life. My observations are from a small spot in this whole wide world. Actually it is called a plot, and it is in South Africa, and compared to many other places in the world, we have an abundance of space.

What lies between spaces? What lies between cities? Mountains? Rivers?

Yes, and Air.
During this week I have been following the COP21 climate meeting in Paris from very far sidelines. What I have seen so far though, is a mess. Political rhetoric, corporate vitriol and hot air utterances filled with empty promises. There is always another “goal” to score, way way down the line. Status quo with new words.

The media repots on the big wig leaders. The guys and girls who have to make it sound great. Their masters preparing speeches to recite.

Cynical… Yes! All this fucking talk up there is not enabling the changes needed down here. Window dressing and cashing in on their bonuses does not cut it!

Soon the troughs will be barren. There are dynamics at play we do not understand, never mind even try to control. The North is seeing an influx of, almost engineered precision, refugees. When was this ball kicked into play? Maybe twelve years ago?

“The haves have not accrued…”

Our power went out when the wind picked up. There are bugs crawling all over the light of the screen. It is wonderful. It is truly beautiful to see life and living happening regardless. Regardless of sentiment, religion, race or anything else but surviving. (btw: If I should fall ten times my length I’ll be shattered… these crawlers not.)

Could one call that a vulnerability? Probably gives us more incentive to push the limits. We have the ability to enhance our talents. Cars, bikes and rockets accelerate us to planets. Shoes protect my feet over stones. Songs tell stories. Theatre makes you cry.

Human kind is unique. Uniquely stupid and uniquely creative. Not even on this planet do we have anything remotely as great and brutal as us. Our species is universally unique. There will not be anything nearly as beautiful as us anywhere else!

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Lenses, almost a natural lineage of glass making when you approach your material as a cold worker, grinder and polisher. Refractive qualities of the polished surfaces bend and distort light which passes through this optical medium. These qualities are exactly what I am exploring in my current journey.

The lenses I am making are more than mere cold working processes or exercises. They are metaphors. Metaphors on the modern dilemma of information overload. Our modern anxious lifestyles of sharing kitten fotos and selfies to be consumed and liked in an instant (or not) by strangers on all continents.

My lenses differ from the battery operated ones we hold in our hands. They only need light – and a spectator – to “convert” first-hand information into unique first-hand visual experiences, transforming contiguous spaces within and beyond, distorting the finely aligned mathematical radiation of the electromagnetic waves we perceive as visible light. Maintaining an intentional “handmade-ness” I explore the optical possibilities and sculptural diversity glass has to offer and emulate the origins of my craft (from toolmaking in pre-historic times).

These maquettes are studies. Although small, the spaces they capture are limitless. My intention is to make them large, as public sculptures. Their function is to stimulate awareness of the contiguous spaces where we find ourselves. To bring us back to the here and now.

This theme of immediacy has been part of my creative vernacular for many years, due, in part, to the “window”, process and optical qualities glass offers. It is just that now, more than ever, my understanding of how huge the universe is and how inconsequential our actions are in relation to the immenseness of the cosmos.

Our insatiable appetite for knowledge and fearless endeavours to explore uncharted territory informs the flip-side of my creative coin. It is exactly this Aha! moment I am after, that instant which spurs spiritual growth and makes us human.

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