'Absorb' shines light on luminous quality of glass at Canberra Glassworks

The twin concepts of luminosity and glass usually bring to mind stained glass and chandeliers, soft colour and refracted light.

But a new exhibition at the Canberra Glassworks designed to bring out the luminous quality of glass is almost entirely in black and white, to the surprise of guest curator Olivia Meehan.

Absorb, a show that explores the optical effects of light and glass, was conceived by the Glassworks' former creative director, Clare Belfrage, and Dr Meehan was asked to help realise the concept.

She has incorporated work by five artists known for their innovative approaches to the concept of light in their work, but with unexpected results.

"Really, the premise is around light and luminosity, whether the luminosity comes from within the work, or whether it's relying on external sources," she said.

Artists Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott use texture to explore the alchemic reaction between glass and light, with a pair of lamps that show the material qualities of glass.


British-based American artist Jeff Zimmer, currently the Stephen Proctor Fellow at the ANU School of Art, has created an atmospheric lightbox, using traditional painting on layers of glass.

The effect is of a romantic, three-dimensional scene; a bride on the River Tweed under a grey sky, with soft clouds that almost appear to be rolling.

"It could be a photo, but he's hand-painted each different layer," Dr Meehan said, adding that the scene represented England and Scotland.

"He was making this towards the end of this whole referendum debate, so it's a very emotional and political work for him; it represents that whole debate as part of a bigger series."

Glassworks resident artist Brian Corr has two works that look at depth and perception.

"Brian's really working within this idea of Japanese aesthetics which looks at the void and depth," she said.

"If you've been into a traditional Japanese garden, they play tricks with object and depth, and he's making meaning from this sort of thing with his glass sculptures."

In the gallery's dramatic smokestack is a single, equally dramatic work by Melbourne artist Nick Wirdnam: a huge, glass stork's nest high on a platform.

The work is part of series examining different beliefs and superstitions, including one in which families build a platform to invite a stork to build a nest to bring good luck.   

"Nick very beautifully offers this gesture not just as a part of his work and practice, but genuinely to bring himself good luck, which I love, that he does this as a gesture for his own self," she said.

His interpretation of light is, in this sense, more enigmatic and poetic than literal.

Absorb is showing at Canberra Glassworks until November 6. Guest curator Olivia Meehan and artist Jeff Zimmer will be discussing the works on Saturday October 4 at 2pm.