Review of Recent Evolution
In the opening sessions of the conference, the work of Tryggvadottir, Helgadottir, and Breidfjord became a catalyst for discussions about the world-wide evolution of the art form over the past 50 years. Helgadottir's work was discussed in the context of her contemporaries in other parts of Europe. For example, Iris Nestler, director of the Glass Museum of Linnich, Germany, described the architectural glass made by German stained-glass studios during the same period.
Not all the presentations concentrated on historical themes, however. Many also examined contemporary work. Susanne K. Frantz, former curator of 20th-century glass at the Corning Museum in New York, described developments in architectural glass art in the Czech Republic.
Yoriko Mizuta, curator of Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, added insight from a Japanese perspective. Mizuta's mention of the shoji screen, the Japanese counterpart of glass windows, seemed to play off Breidfjord's continued reference to kites — many of his pieces are shaped like translucent paper kites, complete with tails.
In all cases — glass windows, shoji screens, and paper kites — the medium is enhanced by the quality of light passing through it. Mizuta noted that stained glass is often at odds with traditional Japanese esthetic notions. Even so, art glass is increasingly finding a place in architectural work in Japan.
Speculations and Innovations
The papers that sparked by far the most interest were those that pondered the future of architectural glass. Caroline Swash, writer, artist, and tutor at Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design in England, and Sigridur Asgeirsdottir, an Icelandic glass artist and founding member of the Women's International Glass Workshop, illustrated some of the ways new technologies and growing interaction between glass artists were affecting glass decoration.
Both speakers felt glass work was rapidly shifting from acceptance as a high craft form to that of a fine art medium. There are strong indications that the transition from craft to fine art is pushing glass in another direction, and the medium appears to be taking on an increasingly sculptural quality.
The sculptural nature of contemporary glass manifests in a number of different ways, depending on the individual artist's design esthetic and the nature of the glass piece itself. Contemporary Icelandic glass artist Brynhildur Thorgeirsdottir marries the denseness of cast concrete with the translucent lightness of cast glass in her latest series of sculptural pieces entitled Visual World.
Thorgeirsdottir's choice of materials — concrete and glass — also harkens back to the stone and concrete churches where stained glass traditionally found a home.
Modern technology may well advance the future of glass art in another direction as well. While some technology has the ability to push glass into the realm of fine art, other advances may actually return the medium to it roots, albeit in an altered state.
Canadian Sarah Hall is one glass artist who is experimenting with the inclusion of photovoltaic cells in her stained-glass window designs. Hall was recently awarded an Arts Fellowship from the Chalmers Foundation to support her innovative work. Her technique, which uses solar cells in the glass to generate electricity, adds an exciting new dimension to the relationship between a building and its windows.
Given the enthusiasm of conference delegates, Iceland 2005 may be the first of many such conferences. It would certainly be interesting to compare the past developments discussed in this forum with those that will take place over the next 50 years.
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Janet Collins is a freelance writer and editor based in British Columbia. She has written for Canadian Architect, Canadian Interiors, Canadian Facility Management & Design, and many other publications.
"Messengers of Fortune," stained glass from the exhibition "Spirit of Man" by Leifur Breidfjord, was part of Iceland 2005: Architectural Glass Conference.
Photo: Leifur Breidfjord
"Panta Rhei" by Yumi Kori, from a show held in 2003 at the Forum of Hermès Japon.
Photo: Toshiro Sobajima & Hermès Japon
A waiting room of the Giouji temple, from the 13th century, rebuilt in 1902.
Photo: Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
Shoji screen in the Giouji temple.
Photo: Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
View over the courtyard of the installation "Visual World" at the Reykjavik Art Museum, April 2005. Sculptures made from concrete, glass, and sand by artist Brynhildur Thorgeirsdottir.
Photo: Gudmundur Ingolfsson
From the installation "Visual World," sculptures made from concrete, glass, and sand by artist Brynhildur Thorgeirsdottir.
Photo: Christopher Lund
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