February 15, 2012
By: Dominic Fondé
The Window Project is a collaborative effort created by Hannelore “Hanne” David, a photographer and filmmaker from Germany and Dominic Fondé, a glassblower and engraver from the United Kingdom, as Seidenreich. The project was conducted in Singapore from June to December 2011.
The aim of this project was to create a stained glass window that, while respecting the traditions of genre, works with a brand new aesthetic and incorporates modern materials.
Inspired by Singapore
As Seidenreich is based in Singapore, the subject and aesthetic was driven by what we saw and encountered here. Singapore is a land of contradictions: an island, a city, and a state all rolled into one. It has a long history as a part of Malaysia and subsequently as a British colony, but it is young as a republic just approaching its first half-century. As a result, the Window Project was about exploring Singapore, understanding what we saw here and articulating the perspective that being a foreign artist in Singapore gives us. In comparing our different cultural backgrounds, Seidenreich hoped to focus on Singaporean culture and develop a visual language to describe the sensations and experiences of living and working here.
For two European artists, Singapore was an exciting proposition. The Singapore skyline is full of contradictions and contrast. Ultra modern skyscrapers – the only logical solution to providing enough living and working space in the confines of an island – and one of the world’s biggest ferris wheels dominate the view, but in-between there are still pockets of more traditional Asian culture.
A Six-Month Residency in Singapore
We were invited to share the Window Project in a six-month residency at The Tanglin Trust School in Singapore. We worked under the gaze of teachers and A-level students; it was a fascinating way to work, both for Seidenreich and also for the students and staff of the school. For the students in particular, who have never encountered professional artists, the interaction was very rewarding. Working in a large open space, all aspects of the project were on display and the students frequently stopped to ask questions and watch with an intense curiosity.
In the Window Project, we aimed to examine both modern and traditional aspects of Singapore. The Window Project as a journey and the artists took a holistic view of the whole project as an artwork.
Looking Through the Window to See the Story
The starting point was to define a window in its role in our lives. Are windows simply a way to keep the weather out and let light in? Do they define how a person looks at the world? They are physical partitions, certainly, but they are also psychological ones. When we answer these questions, when we have a definition, we can use it to create an accessible language for anyone viewing the work. With this language in place it should be possible to plot a course to the final window installation.
This definition began to take shape during discussion in the earliest part of the project. Motivations and views on the function of art were recorded first, with Dominic stating “Art is how we interpret the world, map its meanings, express our reactions to it and even attempt to change it”.
Explaining why he chooses glass as his material he said: “I believe that glass is the defining material of this period in history. No material is as ubiquitous and no material has had such an influence on the human race. In exactly the way that metals defined the Iron Age and Bronze Age, defining its cultural, social and technological culture, glass defines our current world influences – everything from architecture to medical science to electronics. Through mirrors and lenses it has shaped how the human race perceives itself; so to make art from glass, and examine what it means to be part of the human race from this perspective, is to interact with the glass age in the most direct manner possible. Art is how we interpret the world around us. It is a form of communication, a language. I often describe myself as a storyteller. I want to use this language to tell stories”.
From Hanne’s point of view, she noted, “People can choose what they like. An artist does not dictate; they are an observer. It is a democratic language. Art is able to confront people in their normal life with different points of view. This allows them to question their normal life. Confusion allows growth,” and explaining what it means for her to express herself as an artist she says, “I try to understand myself, with all my emotions and history and what is behind those emotions and experiences, so I can understand people and how the world is going”.
The Concept Behind the Window Project
From these discussions, it was possible to state that the Window Project developed the concept of the window as a metaphor for external consensual realities of the physically manifest world and the subjective internal realities of thoughts, emotions and ideas as well as the modern phenomena of “virtual realities such as cyberspace”.
These inner and outer realities may be separated by a windowpane, or the window may be the portal to pass between these realms; perhaps it is simply the screen on which information from one reality is presented for a viewer to read, or a complex convergence of different realities to be observed and experienced.
Commenting on this, Hanne noted, “The outer and the inner realities, both have different qualities. The outer and inner realities, although they may be personal and subjective and different from each other, are nevertheless real. These realities have big potential for humans because we create a symbolic history or story with them. The space behind the window, the inner reality, an inner story, with this story you can accept or understand yourself as a human. Every step in the journey to explore these ideas will have as a result, an artwork, shown in a exhibition at the end of December 2011 in Singapore”.
Making the Window
All this should indicate that the nature of the project was challenging to say the least. The combination of different media such as photography, film, glass, even audio and scent-based aspects was technically difficult as was the task to create something with a coherent aesthetic from the different views and statements of the artists. Testing and experimentation across a slew of techniques including photography, film and glass were crucial to the successful realization of the project and the definition of the aesthetic sought.
In gathering information for the project, we interviewed a traditional business shop owner in Singapore. The resulting video was part of the installation and the footage was used as the basis of a story engraved onto the window. In addition, a portrait was engraved as a view from the outer wider world, connecting architecture and technology to the inner world via the people of Singapore. We included photographs to describe the atmosphere and the surroundings of the business at it relates to historical Singapore. We decided to use traditional colours to underline traditional aspects of Singapore in contrast with the new architecture and technology. This necessitated multiple test firings in the kiln to find a suitable palette of coloured glass.
Yet another factor was the size of the glass pieces that could be made in the kiln and how they could be assembled or connected for the final installation. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of this project, Seidenreich sought input from scientists and other crafts people. Including many different specialists gave us the opportunity to hear their perspectives and ideas, which was the most interesting aspect of the artwork. Teachers from Tanglin Trust School physics department, and departments in Singapore Universities were approached for their input to the project as well.
The artwork is now complete and we are negotiating with venues in Singapore for a place to exhibit it for several months.