August 1, 2011
July 1 – August 21, 2011
By Joanne Marion and Tom McFall
This dynamic group exhibition of contemporary handmade glasswork ranges from large-scale sculpture to small vessels by 16 Alberta glass artists. It is also the first collaboration between the Alberta Craft Council, the Calgary Glass Initiative and the Esplanade Art Gallery, in bringing the exhibition, publication and website to fruition.
Natural Flow was initiated as a way of gathering together recent work by a wide range of Alberta-based glass artists. The theme highlights the unique ability of hot glass to embody organic and biomorphic ideas, forms and forces.
The natural flow of hot glass, both as a medium and a creative making process makes it arguably one of the most mind-body connected of the craft arts. Much of the process and final form are a direct result of this: rhythm, dance, energy and movement, are typical words in the hot glass vocabulary.
The liquidity and viscosity of hot glass are inextricably linked to the mind and muscle grace of the makers. This is distinct, for example, from stages of drawing, modeling, cutting, assembling and finishing common with furniture making; none of these glass pieces would have the same visual flow had they been drawn by hand or CAD and then prototyped and produced somewhere other than in these craft artists’ studios.
The very nature of glass as an ‘amorphous solid’ – neither liquid nor solid – thus lends itself to these qualities physically, but the works in hot glass featured here take it a step beyond, evoking natural forces of change visually and also metaphorically, through a variety of strategies from imagery to humour, satire and spiritual contemplation.
Alberta has a unique hot glass culture, recognized internationally for its “frontier” character. The personalities of the individual artists and the distinctiveness of their work preclude an “Alberta school” of glass. But, collectively, Alberta’s glass artists are a phenomenon. The 16 artists in Natural Flow are among those who have, over the past 30 to 40 years, created a distinct Alberta energy in their discipline.
In her catalogue text, Jennifer Salahub has ably invoked the spirit of social historian John Ruskin, the British Arts & Crafts Movement and the development of American studio glass in creating a context for the work in this exhibition. We may add to that scholarship the wealth of global influences embraced by these artists. They are versed in a long culture of glass object making from the ancient Mediterranean and Renaissance Italy, through industrial revolution manufacturing, to French art nouveau, Scandinavian modern, central European communist modern, Italian movements such as Memphis, all of the American art glass scene from Tiffany Studio to the present, as well as oddities such as Mexican and Indian sweatshop factories. Even Coca-Cola and other famous brand glass products, space-race material developments and contemporary art can be seen as having made an eclectic material or ideation impression upon these artists.
However, while the idea of ‘natural flow’ is traced through the works gathered here, it is not exemplary of all Alberta glass artists’ practices; and so this project, while comprehensive in scope, is certainly not exhaustive of the richness of Alberta glass artists.
Natural Flow: Contemporary Alberta Glass was curated by Joanne Marion and organized by the Esplanade Art Gallery in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council and the Calgary Glass Initiative, and is accompanied by a catalogue and a website. We thank the cities of Medicine Hat, Calgary and Edmonton, for their support, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
Joanne Marion Curator of Art, Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre
Tom McFall Executive Director, Alberta Craft Council
Kai Georg Scholefield President, Calgary Glass Initiative