Christian Barr is a Canadian Designer/Maker primarily working in the genre of wood-fire ceramics. His work reflects connection to place and environment.
Christian Barr is a Canadian Designer/Maker primarily working in the genre of wood-fire ceramics. His work reflects connection to place and environment.
David Trigg: Until being selected for the Jerwood Makers Open you were making small items of jewellery. What prompted you to up-scale your work and start creating these quirky interactive sculptures?
Farah Bandookwala: I really enjoy making and the exciting thing about jewellery is that, in a sense, it’s interactive. Jewellery is never complete until worn by a moving, animated person; its on the body that these small, sculptural objects come alive. Jerwood Makers Open gave me the chance to take this idea to the next level and create sculptural objects that have a life of their own. Financially, I had been previously restricted in size, and JMO allowed me to take risks and create larger, more complex work. In a way it was easier for me as I genuinely don’t distinguish between these two ways of working; jewellery is small scale sculpture worn on the body, and the interactive pieces are objects adorning the space.
DT: Tell me about the organic forms you’ve created. Are they inspired by the natural world? They look like the kind of thing you might see under a microscope.
FB: My goal in terms of form was to create objects that could be from the natural world. I think too much Computer Aided Design looks mathematical and very artificial so I aim to create objects that although unrecognisable, appear familiar, like a creature from deep under the ocean, or a specimen found on a nature walk. I am also fascinated by microscopic images of pollen.
DT: You use rapid prototyping to create your works. Could you explain exactly what this is and how it works? It sounds pretty complicated!
FB: Rapid prototyping is made up of two subtypes: additive processes, where material is added to build up a form, like a potters wheel, and subtractive processes, where material is cut way, like a stonemason carving away to reveal form. I work with additive processes like selective laser sintering and stereo lithography. This means I draw the object using CAD packages like Rhino and Cloud9, and then upload the file to a 3D printing service, such as Shapeways. They use a computer programme to slice the object into fine layers and this information is put into a machine that builds the actual object. Using selective laser sintering, powdered material is fused together layer by layer with a laser, which builds up the object. The larger, coloured bits of my sculptures are made this way using powdered nylon. I love the matt, velvety texture of the nylon. Steriolithography is then used to set a light-sensitive gel using a laser; the areas hit by the laser harden to create the form. As with any making process, rapid prototyping has its own restrictions and rules. Although I would love to have my own 3D printer, they are rather expensive, and this means relying on an external body to make the work. Also ‘rapid’ is a relative term; sometimes it takes two to three weeks for pieces (particularly the larger ones) to be made.
DT: The works seem very technical. Did you have to learn a lot about electronics to accomplish these pieces?
FB: I’d never made anything interactive until the Jerwood Makers Open. It was an extreme learning curve (and I’m still learning!), and at times quite stressful. I’m very grateful to my friend, Andrew Simpson, who, having studied electronic engineering, explained the basics of electronics to me, and helped me out with the more fiddly bits of soldering and setting up components. I couldn’t have done it without his helping me make sense of things. I tried to do as much as possible on my own, which probably wasn’t the best idea because I’d have to learn what could be done, and then find out how to actually do it. From a technical point of view, none of the sculptures were very complicated, I struggled more with making the interaction fluid and sophisticated rather than than the actual nuts and bolts of it.
DT: Do you consider these works as sculptures, craft or something else? Where do you think the boundaries lie?
FB: I struggle with labels. I’d much rather have people interact with the work and be immersed in it without nitpicking over categorising it. I think this attitude perhaps affects the work I create; it’s very much on the boundary between several disciplines. I like to describe them as interactive objects, and leave the categorising to the audience. I appreciate that different people will approach the work as sculpture, or craft, or large scale jewellery, or a very expensive one-of-a-kind toy depending on their own background.
DT: When I first encountered Quiver it made me really nervous; it’s not every day that an artist allows you to handle their work in a gallery. Are you concerned that the piece might get damaged?
FB: Perhaps it comes from my jewellery background, but I like the idea of encouraging audiences to handle, even play with works in a gallery. This is something I struggle with when I go to galleries and museums; my hands itch to touch, and not being able to makes the experience very sterile. The body of work for the Jerwood Makers Open was dreamed up as a way of setting that idea on its head, so not only are you allowed to handle Quiver, but your experience of it isn’t actually complete until you pick it up, turn it over and feel it vibrate and purr in response. The work is designed to be robust enough to cope with this interaction and hopefully will be easily fixed if it does break, but it’s difficult to plan for all eventualities when making interactive things. Although it is more of a risk that the piece might get damaged because the audience is allowed to handle it, the work becomes quite pointless without that risk. I could hardly say ‘it’s interactive, it’ll respond if you pick it up, but please don’t in case it breaks!’
DT: Where did the idea for Bristle come from? It’s almost like there’s a creature living in there.
FB: Bristle is my favourite of the works; it seems to respond to interaction in such a temperamental way. The idea evolved out of a combination of things. After designing Quiver I knew I wanted to create something that responded to movement. Also, I suffer from depression, and do have days when I feel exactly like Bristle; vulnerable and shy, wanting to keep the world at a distance to protect myself. Extruding spikes seems the best way to express that feeling! I like to think that a lot of people feel a similar way, from the attention Bristle got on the opening night. I think the fact that you don’t know exactly what sets the sculpture off adds a live quality to it — you never know what it might decide to do next!
“I love ceramic glaze. It touches me, fascinates me and fills me with wonder. It is because of a glaze that had so moved me that I decided to become a potter, and a glaze artist. Most of all it is the depth of a ceramic glaze that I am awed by and which draws me in. I am interested in the ability of a ceramic glaze to attract the viewer towards an inner space where they can lose themselves in its contemplation, possibly experiencing an aesthetic, artistic, emotional shock.” — Emmanuel Boos
Emmanuel Boos is passionate about ceramics. No, Emmanuel Boos is crazy about ceramics! He absolutely adores the medium, and his infatuation is clearly evidenced by his remarkable collection of works in the Jerwood Makers Open.
Specifically, Boos is on a quest to investigate the perception of depth in ceramic glazes. The ceramic form and its relation to glazes — how it supports, triggers or contributes to the perception of depth — is his central concern. His ever expanding installation, Cobblestones (2009 — ), for example, features an incredible range of experimental glazes that Boos has developed over the years in his mission to explore depth. Here are rich purples, translucent greens, earthy reds and cloudy greys. Some appear lustrous while others are matte yet all of them, to a lesser of greater extent, provoke the illusion of spatial depth, taking the eye into and beyond their surfaces. For the JMO Boos has embarked on an ambitious new body of work. His Plane series (2010—2011), comprise slabs of paper porcelain that either hang on walls like paintings or lie flat like sculptures. Despite being demurely coloured, the glazes on these works seem far more playful than the cobblestones, developing in runs, drops, flows and pools. One piece, lying flat on a table, appears to be melting – its glaze dripping over the work’s edge like soft Camembert cheese.
By embracing the unpredictable nature of glaze, Boos demonstrates that an exploration of perspectival depth is not his only concern here — he is also fascinated by accidents and surprises. Clay can be a temperamental substance and things do not always go according to plan. Fissures, gashes or cracks are embraced as part of the work, giving these pieces an incredible sense of fragility. But whether the focus is on the transformative potential of glazes or the friable nature of his chosen medium, the resulting surfaces are, in Boos’s own words, ‘an invitation to contemplate and dream poetically of material qualities and processes. Surface and depth. Void and substance.’
By David Trigg
It’s not everyday that an artist encourages you to pick up and play with their work, but that’s exactly what Farah Bandookwala invites us to do at the Jerwood Makers Open exhibition. With a background in jewellery, Bandookwala is keen to stress the importance of the viewer’s involvement with the work. For her, jewellery is only activated when it is worn by an individual and the same is true of her new sculptural pieces, for it is only when we physically engage with her works that she considers them complete. It’s a stance that reflects a trajectory within contemporary art which, since the 1960s, has underscored the physical involvement of the viewer as an essential part of the work itself — from the work of Minimalists such as Donald Judd or Carl Andre to the so called ‘relational aesthetics’ of the late 90s that continue to inform much contemporary art practice today. Yet despite having taken the leap from creating small-scale items of jewellery to larger sculptural works, Bandookwala does not consider herself a sculptor or even an artist per se. Instead she prefers to call herself a designer maker, conscious that her work hovers on the boundary between several different disciplines.
Bandookwala’s new works are like exotic creatures or perhaps the type of squirming organisms one might expect to see under a microscope. Sitting on a plinth, Quiver (2011) looks like some kind of ancient sea creature that’s been washed ashore. This is the work that visitors can handle, and as they do it starts to vibrate. It’s a strange and slightly unsettling experience, not only because touching an artist’s work simply feels wrong but also because you’re not sure what, if anything, it might do next. Nearby, down on the floor is Bristle (2011), a curious little piece that reacts to your presence; as you approach, a spikey grey form shoots up from inside another purple, coral-like structure. It is perhaps the defence mechanism of a creature who feels threatened or it may even be some sort of hostile or agressive behaviour. Either way it’s rather unnerving. Flicker (2011), on the other hand, is a far more friendlier piece. What can only be described as a blobby biomorphic form sits hanging on the wall. A series of white blobs placed across its blue surface respond to your presence by lighting up — waving your hand across its surface triggers an unpredictable pattern of illumination. As with all of her new sculptures there is an element of exploration and discovery here, and viewers must interact with the work to learn how each piece responds.
Despite initially appearing highly organic, closer inspection reveals a curious, almost pixellated quality to Bandookwala’s sculptures. These digital artefacts are a result of the cutting-edge techniques involved in their making. Computer-aided design, rapid prototyping and haptic interfaces are employed to build up complex textures that are intended to introduce an element of ‘tactile intrigue’ to the work (a more detailed discussion of Bandookwala’s production methods can be read in a forthcoming interview with the artist). These radical new processes are at once baffling and hugely exciting and it feels as if Bandookwala is only just scratching the surface of what might be possible. Looking at the older selection of jewellery which has been included in the exhibition, it’s amazing just how ambitious Bandookwala has been in creating these new works. This scale of ambition is testament to the liberation that arises from opportunities such as the Jerwood Makers Open, allowing artists the time and resources to explore ways of working that were hitherto completely out of reach.
Dawn Detarando is a Canadian ceramic artist from Red Deer, Alberta.
David Trigg: Balance is integral to your recent glass sculptures. What inspired you to create such precarious looking works?
Heike Brachlow: I have been working with balance and movement for about six years now. I like the dichotomy between the solidity and weight of cast glass and its lightness and perceived fragility. The idea for this particular work came from a child’s toy, a balancing bird, which I picked up a couple of years ago. I was doing other things at the time but the concept of a body of work based on balancing toys stayed with me and finally came to fruition for this project.
DT: Works such as Equinox I make me feel nervous; it seems so solid yet also incredibly fragile. Is there a danger that the works could fall and break?
HB: Equinox I is actually the ‘safest’ piece in the exhibition. It has a heavy lead weight in the lower part, so you would have to knock it quite hard to dislodge it. I think with this body of work, the sense of precariousness is more perceived than actual – any piece of glass is in danger of falling and breaking if it gets knocked over. With a previous body of work, the Movement series, I initially encouraged visitors to ‘play’ with the work. The pieces consist of a pair of heavy cylinders with conical bases, on which they rotate when set into motion. Unfortunately not every visitor had a good sense of material, and some people thought the objects were made of resin, and therefore safe to knock over; I had some breakages, so I stopped encouraging viewers to touch the work.
DT: The fragility of your medium must be a constant challenge, especially when working on this scale. Did you have to overcome any technical difficulties during the production of these new pieces?
HB: Yes, definitely. The forms are quite different to my previous shapes. I tried to cast a larger version of Somewhere, but it failed due to shape-induced stress. I also had to figure out which glue to use for attaching the metal parts, which was difficult, because it had to be a flexible adhesive as glass and metal have completely different rates of expansion. So I spent a lot of time on the phone with adhesive experts. The time frame didn’t help; I only had three and a half months to produce the work for the Jerwood, which didn’t leave much time for experimentation.
DT: How exactly do you cast glass? What does the process involve?
HB: For me, the process begins with making the glass colour. The glass is mixed with colouring oxides and melted in a furnace (or in a crucible in a kiln for smaller amounts), then hot-cast into blocks and annealed (slow cooling to avoid stress in the glass) over night. The kiln casting process usually begins with making a model to take a refractory mould of. Mould making can be a quite convoluted process, for instance I might make a clay, plaster or wooden model to take a plaster or silicone mould of, to then pour wax into the mould to make a positive form, which is invested in a refractory mix to make the final glass mould. The wax is then steamed out, and the mould ready to load with glass for the final casting process. Sometimes it is possible to cut out parts of this process. For the work in the exhibition, I made re-usable silicone positives to take the refractory moulds of. The refractory mould is dried, placed in the kiln and the glass is either loaded directly into the mould, or placed in a reservoir such as a terracotta flower pot, which is suspended above the mould. The kiln is programmed to slowly increase the temperature to about 850ºC, where the glass melts and fills the mould. This can take up to ten hours. After briefly opening the kiln to check the mould has filled, the temperature is dropped to about 480ºC for annealing, then lowered at a slow rate to room temperature. My work is usually in the kiln for a period of one to three weeks, depending on size. Then the glass is removed from the kiln and the mould is carefully broken off with hammer and chisel. Next, the glass is ground and polished — this usually takes about a week and isn’t my favourite part of the process.
DT: Was it hard to make the sculptures balance? I presume the shapes you used were very carefully thought through when you were initially designing the work?
HB: At the beginning of the project, I looked at many different balancing forms and researched the physics involved. The forms came about mainly through model making. I had a rough idea of the direction I intended to take and set myself the goal of coming up with five different forms, then developed the shapes by making model after model. It took some work to get a feeling for how to balance a form but in the end achieving equilibrium was much easier than I thought. I made plaster models of most of the shapes first and realised that the balance could be changed by moving the pivot point. This realisation combined with the knowledge that the centre of mass had to be below the pivot point was a great help. Only Equinox I wasn’t done in plaster before, but was balanced by adjusting the position of the lead weight in the lower part. I wasn’t entirely sure it would work until I put it together two days before the opening!
DT: I know colour is very important in your work. Can you tell me about the colours you chose for the new works and their significance?
HB: It’s true that colour is very important to me, but my interest is purely visual. There is no significance in the sense of meaning or symbolism in my use of colour. When you say ‘the colours I chose’, it sounds easy. In actual fact, I did choose the colours for three of the objects, but the colours for the other two I made myself. This involved running a series of tests, evaluating, running some more tests, making a choice, then melting about 30-50kg of glass in a furnace, taking it out and casting it into blocks the next day. The blocks then go into the annealer to be cooled down slowly so they don’t crack. A day later, they are ready for use.
DT: And the colours change under different light conditions don’t they?
HB: Yes. Currently I am mostly working with polychromatic colours, that is colours that change in different types of light. This adds an extra, hidden, possibility of transformation to the work. I have used such colours for Avis I (which changes to green in fluorescent light) and Avis III (which changes to turquoise). Transparent colour in solid three-dimensional objects has some unusual characteristics: it darkens with more thickness, and sometimes changes in hue, as can be seen in Equinox I. This means that even if you use the same glass for a small, thin object and a large, thick one, the appearance of the colour will be quite different in each. Somewhere I is made with a dark red glass, almost so dark it appears black, but the edges, where the form thins out, glow a bright raspberry red in certain light conditions.
DT: Do you think of yourself as a sculptor, glass artist, crafts person or something else? How useful do you think these definitions are in defining practice?
HB: Generally, I call myself an artist. But many people think of artist as synonymous with painter, so I usually qualify, glass artist or sculptor (which is often thought of as working in metal, stone or wood…). Crafts person implies skill in a certain area, but could imply working to other people’s designs. On the other hand, “crafts” also has certain connotations of amateurism. I am not sure how useful these designations are. These days, a lot of overlap happens between fine art, design, and applied arts (or crafts), and there is much discussion. There are different galleries/platforms for the applied arts and fine art, and different materials are seen to belong to one or the other. In America, glass is in between; a fine art material and a craft material, which is as it should be. In my opinion, the designation shouldn’t depend on the material, but on how it is used.
She assures me they can’t fall, but I’m not convinced. In fact, Heike Brachlow’s new glass works make me decidedly nervous. Inspired by balancing toys, her chunky yet carefully poised sculptures appear extremely vulnerable; one false move by a careless visitor and these substantial coloured glass forms could be dashed into a thousand shards.
Brachlow is passionate about glass. She is also passionate about colour. Her recently completed PhD at the Royal College of Art explored innovative new ways of making transparent coloured glass and it is this period of intense practical research that has informed her work for the Jerwood Makers Open. During her studies, Brachlow developed a special technique allowing her to melt small amounts of coloured glass in a kiln. Themes and Variations I (2009), which is presented in the Jerwood Space alongside her new works, is a modest example of these earlier experiments. Lined up on a small shelf is a variegated sequence of glass cubes. Each piece is coloured with a slightly different hue, which together form a scintillating sweep of gradating colour, from misty blue through to rich crimson. However, when illuminated by florescent light, the colours are transformed into vibrant hues of green.
Far more ambitious that this is Brachlow’s Six Impossible Things series (2011). Balanced on the end of slim metal poles protruding from a table-like plinth are three hefty glass forms. Coloured with subtle shades of purple, Avis I and Avis II comprise circular wedge-like forms, while between these, appearing like an oversized arrowhead, is Somewhere I, which points towards the gallery’s ceiling. Seeming somewhat precarious, these three works sway gently on their stands. As with Themes and Variations I, the colours of these works change subtly throughout the day in relation to the light conditions. Nearby, looking even more vulnerable is Avis III; hung on a free-standing pole is another circular wedge but here it is coloured with a striking electric blue. It’s works like these that are the stuff of gallery invigilators’ nightmares.
But balance is key here, and though Brachlow’s works appear very vulnerable, they are in fact a lot safer than they look. Careful choice of form and weight distribution allows the objects to remain safely balanced while simultaneously being able to move freely on a single pivot. This is achieved simply by placing the centre of gravity below the pivoting point. Nevertheless, breakages are still possible and, as Brachlow reminded me, all glass objects are vulnerable and in danger of breaking if they are knocked or dropped. This then is the tension at the heart of the artist’s new works and it is precisely this state of fragile equilibrium that makes them so compelling.
Harlan House is a Canadian ceramicist living and working in Lonsdale, Ontario. His work can be found in museum and art gallery collections throughout the world.