The production of glass has shaped and sharpened human senses throughout history. Glass lenses have allowed us both to correct vision and glimpse the unfathomable depths of the universe. And as an art medium, glass has been used to symbolize every comprehensible and confounding human experience. "The Next: A Studio Glass Movement Continuum," currently hosted at The College at Brockport's Tower Fine Arts Gallery, showcases the work of 17 contemporary glassmakers who push the medium's physical and philosophic properties in fascinating directions.
"The Next" is curated by glass artist Eunsuh Choi, who is an adjunct faculty member at Brockport and senior instructor at the Rochester Arc and Flame Center. Examples of Choi's intricate adornments and sculptures are present in wall-mounted cases just outside of the gallery space. In one of the otherworldly neckpieces, which are seemingly meant for only the most graceful of wearers, countless glass tendrils frame a collar around spindly ladders set among puffy, blown-glass clouds.
Equally alien, and strange in its modern/nostalgic twist of materials, is Sarah Blood's "Continuing Without." A glowing glass hoop is covered in crochet and framed in an antique display cabinet. The fragile "O"-shaped tube, filled with argon and lit by a hidden electrical source, floats atop vintage fabric, dull by comparison to the pale green-blue light that permeates its woven prison.
The work evokes a feeling of distilled endlessness, and certainly projects an eerie presence within the space. Blood's work often juxtaposes the density of such materials as wood, concrete, and clay with the "perceived fragility" of glass, inert gas, and light. In this piece, the cooperative effects of the delicate glass and gas dominate the work, while the seemingly more substantial elements of hardwood and beautiful brass detailing catch our attention later.
A black and white video piece of Karen Donnellan's performance, "O," mirrors the serene, near-mystical feeling in Blood's work, and also provides an audible counterpart for the visual power of Blood's sculpture in the gallery. In the performance, recorded in a "process film as a vehicle for meditation," periodic chimes sound over metallic murmurs ("Sacred Solfeggio tones"), while Donnellan's hands make repetitive motions over a variety of studio materials. The whole of it is mesmerizing, but most hypnotically so when her fingertips carve an unceasing circle in wet and pliable plaster.
Michael Taylor's transfixing work often seems impossible. He plays with illusion, seamlessly combining geometry and color to present portal-like forms that are allusions to the abstractions in Platonic philosophy. The provided artist statement in the exhibition catalog explains the ideas behind Taylor's two works in this show: "This ancient theory asserts the existence of abstract objects, existing in a third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness."
In Taylor's "Indivisible E Series #10," intersecting discs, semi-circle, and triangular forms seem simple enough, but the play of refracting light through the interacting colors add something slippery, not-entirely-knowable, to the object. Shadows and reflected light are as important a component in the work as its carefully balanced colors and solid forms, and all shapeshift ponderously as we move around the piece.
In Taylor's "Infinity Plug," a series of clear glass rectangles are stacked, each decreasing in size and slightly rotated. From the outside, the object is covered in sharp points, but by looking at the largest rectangle head-on, we experience the illusion of gazing into the spiraling tunnel of a vortex.
William Gudenrath's two works, "Maximum" and "Minimum," are each expert executions of the opposite ends of a visual spectrum, and together truly show off his glassblowing prowess. Each is an impossibly thin-walled tall and narrow vessel, looking as though a single breath would destroy it. The former is blooming with texture and fanciful flora, while the latter is a sleek, streamlined dream.
An interest in the human impulse to gather and display novel objects informs Robin Cass's works, which often resemble oversized botanical or zoological specimens. Cass urges a striking level of texture and detail in each piece, meant to suggest luscious flora from afar and suggest sentience upon closer examination. This is achieved through fabricating elements that resemble sensory organs: the cluster of silvery bulbs in "Ocular Cladanthus" indeed seem like the primitive eyeballs of dim-dwelling fauna.
Jennifer Hecker's two industrial works are flawlessly constructed, and her poignant message is immediately clear. The oxidized iron and steel box frame of "Drain Shelf #7" has three shelves contained within it, and the top and bottom shelves each feature large circular holes. In the central shelf, flameworked glass droplets — metaphors for memory — are suspended in the multiple holes in a metal plate.
The work is symbolic of our inability to hold onto what is ephemeral and transient, which is here frozen in an eternal progression toward an unknowable oblivion, represented by the opening below. The surreal and suspenseful stasis lends a sense of dearness to those crystalline drops.
Something about the arrested moment in this work, this distilled slipping-away, reminds me of Keats' poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Hecker's sculpture is both a lament of loss and a celebration of the purity and wonder of having experienced this strange human existence at all.