Craft by Kerry-Anne Cousins
Diplomacy in Glass: translations in glass. Canberra Glassworks. On until 16 April.
Ivana Jirasek, the guest curator of this exhibition, has brought together the work of eight of Australia's best glass artists in a concept involving diplomatic missions in Canberra. Eight artists were chosen and linked to the diplomatic mission of countries with glass making traditions. Helen Aitken-Kuhnen was partnered with Japan, Andrew Baldwin to Malta, Erin Conron to Belgium, Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott to Italy, Hannah Gason to France, Elizabeth Kelly to Finland, Lienors Torre to the Czech Republic and Klaus Moje to the US. The exhibition provides a window into the international world of glass and reflects what Klaus Moje calls the international brotherhood of glassmakers.
All these artists coincidently have had a connection with the ANU School of Art glass workshop. Some have made new work inspired by their partnered country; others have chosen work to include in the exhibition from their previous practice.
A good example of the latter is Klaus Moje, former founder and head of the ANU School of Art glass workshop. Moje has had a long association with many of the famous glass workshops in the US. His work in the exhibition is a reminder of his pioneering work in kiln-formed glass. In particular his series of roll ups and his relationship with Bulls Eye Glass in the USwho supplied the special kind of glass he needed. The technique of roll ups associated with Moje involves using thin wafers of coloured glass and fusing them together before cutting through them to reveal their patterns. For Moje it was a way of making large abstract paintings in glass, characterised by intense colour. His panels in the exhibition are an example of this technique and reference Moje's prestigious commission The Portland Panels – four large glass kiln formed panels for the new wing of the Corning Museum in New York that opens this month.
Helen Aitken-Kuhnen's large square dishes are made from kiln-formed glass. Each one is characterised by its mosaic-like structure of intense colour patterns in greens and blues. They are also a reminder of Aitken-Kuhnen's love of glass and her work as a jeweller that cuts across the disciplines of glassmaking, metal work and enamelling. Aitken-Kuhnen's pairing with Japan reflects her affinity with Japanese aesthetics and the elegant forms of her three works fit well with the Japanese appreciation of refinement and understatement.
Andrew Baldwin has not travelled to his partner country Malta. He is aware, however, of the importance of lacemaking in Maltese cultural tradition. His tall glass cylindrical vessels honour this tradition by their beautiful delicate network of crisscross lines of decoration using the Venetian technique of cane work called reticello.
Erin Conron is partnered with Belgium. Her series of eight clear glass bells called Arch are decorated by painted line and texture that creates a gentle movement of light and shade which links each of the eight bells. The concept is based on the Flanders Poppy. The sensitive manner, in which she has drawn the folded lines of the stylised poppy petals that fold around the bell jars, somehow suggests the enfolding of memories preserved within jars themselves.
The glass artists Ben Edols and Kathy Elliot are well matched with Italy as their art practice involves a mastery of glass blowing techniques, engraving and cane work. Of particular interest is Emerge 2010 – a clear glass vessel with a red inner core. Skilfully engraved by Elliott to enhance its fluid movement, its inner core appears to shimmer with light.
Hannah Gason is a young glass artist working in pate de verre who is quickly establishing a reputation for innovation in glass. The glassmakers of France, her partner country, are known for the use pate de verre – a glass paste that can be moulded into shapes and forms. Gason initially studied as a cartographer and it is tempting to see this influence in the grid-like structure of her two wall pieces Window 1& 2 although they may also be a reference to the lead armatures of stained glass windows. These metal structures have small pate de verre glass shapes influenced by the colours of the Australian landscape almost blown against them like paper against a wire screen. This is a clever and sophisticated design that is both architectural and geometric but overlaid with a decorative motif. At once contemporary in feel, the work sits confidently within the decorative arts tradition.
Elizabeth Kelly is paired with Finland. Kelly would be in sympathy with the concept of Finnish design and studio production as these concerns are mirrored in her own art practice. Kelly has created a series of elegantly designed curving glass vessels – the Ana vases, based on the iconic Savoy Vase designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1936 and the Bolgeblick tumblers designed by his wife Aino in 1934. Kelly's own vases seem to be saturated in light that reveals their subtle and varied colour tints and allows their translucent colour to take on a unique painterly quality.
The artist Lienors Torre has an affinity with the Czech glass engraving tradition that is reflected in her engraving skills in this exhibition. Torres also has a background in animation and uses this medium to enhance and develop her glasswork. Inspired by Czech landscape and legends, Torres has engraved a series of glass tumblers with motifs derived from Czech fairy tales.
However, the artist's two glasses inspired by the green water sprite of Czech legend are her most imaginative works. I was disappointed that she did not follow through with this motif as it has great evocative power and creative potential.