First there was a blank sheet of paper. Carte blanche.
My work questions these personal observations and forces me to look beyond the digital frame.
In the crazy whirly moments before we left for our road trip / holiday last year I managed to prepare some pocket lens prototypes. They needed to come with! To be tested in new environments!
Pocket Lenses developed over years. They have become an analogue synonym of our digitally engaged society.
Lenses were a natural conclusion to the work I do. Sculpting solid (and sometimes blown) glass by grinding and polishing I invoke light to do crazy things. Light is all around us. It is the substance (or wave) that informs us of our surrounding, bouncing off everything we see.
Some light is also emitted, such as the screen you are reading this on – looking into a “window”. Looking through glass. Looking beyond the surface…
Before I get carried away by the etherial and profound lets get back to the Pocket Lenses.
One of my first iterations on the theme of looking and being seen predated smart phones. Mask and Mask Blue questioned the experience of looking through the “mask lens” and being seen looking through the “mask lens”. This was a very intentional play to engage the spectator in becoming an active part of these sculptures.
Steel handles UV-bonded on the sides of the masks encouraged the viewer to lift the sculpture off of the stand. Once the mask is held to your face to peer through your arms and elbows complete the suggested shape; to complete the sculptural concept by uniting the participant with the object and transforming these into the “full picture” – which in turn is what the surrounding spectators see and experience.
More than ten years later the world has evolved into an ever more inter-connected landscape in which individuals are peering into hand held glass lenses, looking at the world and showing the world their perspective, digitally.
Pocket Lenses are the next generation of interactive sculptural interventions, bringing the here and now closer to your immediate experience.
Look around you. Grids are everywhere. Even in nature grids appear. The structural lines of the veins on your hand, the folds and lines on your palm, they are everywhere like intersecting pathways.
A grid gives structure to space. Consisting of lines it separates planes into blocks. Lines are fundamental to the existence of a grid, but they must cross another. Some lines are longer others broader but it is this crossing of the lines that constitutes a grid.
Some grids are structured, mathematically and perpendicular. Take a map of the city or place you live in, look at these forever connecting lines which make up the roads, streets and borders of your environment.
Others seem random and organic such as the neurones and synapses in our brains or the ebb and flow in a mangrove swamp.
Ultimately these lines, wherever they find themselves, are connected.
An ongoing theme in my work has been the large optical crystal Grid Sculptures. A grid pattern is cut into the base of these large and heavy blocks, adding a rigid, formal, almost quantifiable structure into the narrative. Thereafter the flat sided cube is carved up, often with impulsively determined facets or, quite recently, with an underlying geometric structure. I allow these variants to manifest themselves.
The grid already determines rigidity and mathematical quantifiable value. These straight lines conform to an imposed intervention, something that is not quite from nature.
Then the carving starts. First with lines drawn onto the cube then with a saw to remove larger chunks. A rough diamond cup-disk is used thereafter to shape and hew the sculpture into desired curves and facets. It is with my hands, eyes and tools that the sculpture takes shape.
During the process which takes several days of meticulous and repetitive labour, scouring the surface with ever finer gritts, the interior emerges.
It is this magic of the hard transparent material I am after. The initial matt and rough cuts don’t tell me much of what light will do but it is towards the end of the process when, after an almost meditative sojourn the spirit of my endeavour emerges.
I am attempting to impose an organic distortion on the rigid structural set of rules, this predetermined grid we deal and often conform with. I am trying to find another way of seeing things.
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!
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org