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National Glass Centre to close

Given that I’ve visited the National Glass Centre a few times this year, I should mention that its future is under serious threat.

The National Glass Centre opened in 1998, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund. On 31 January 2020, Boris Johnson chose the site to hold the Cabinet’s last meeting before the UK’s exit from the EU, promising ‘a new chapter in the United Kingdom’s story’. Three years on, with no EU funding incoming, it’s become clear that the ‘new chapter’ doesn’t include the very place where it was proclaimed.

Due to structural problems with the building, the ‘world-class cultural asset’ of the final (and very busy) glass furnace in Sunderland is due to be lost. The upper end of the much-disputed restoration cost is £45m: less than one day of the funding the former Prime Minister claimed the UK sent to the EU, or less than a fifth of one percent of the estimated cost of restoring the Palace of Westminster. In the Government’s view, the value of glass-making on the Wear is negligible compared to law-making on the Thames.

There’s a spirited campaign underway to save the National Glass Centre. I would miss it if it closed down, and that feeling was only reinforced by seeing the building half-closed due to storm damage on my most recent visit.

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I’ve been to see Glass World

The National Glass Centre has curated an exhibition to show the influence of international studio glass styles and techniques on the British studio glass scene. It features work representing the practice in thirty different countries.

Here are three objects that stood out.

This is Dancing Goblets, a 2021 work by Sacha Delabre. Delabre grew up in France and studied for a BA in Glass on the internationally renowned programme at Sunderland University. He now works at the Glass Hub down in Wiltshire.

I’ve previously seen the left-most of the three goblets exhibited on its own. I was taken by its surrealist form. Seeing these three pieces together brings out the dynamism of the dancing. They are wonderful.

I didn’t react as emotionally to this 2016 untitled work by Czechia’s Martin Janecký, but I was amazed. The detail and complexity of the large form seemed incredible.

My visit to the exhibition of work by Neil Wilkin and Rachael Woodman earlier this year taught me something about the challenge of working with glass. It is hard to comprehend how Janecký made such a detailed, lifelike form from such an uncompromising material.

Map of the World, diminished by Inge Panneels is a tiny 2023 work, perhaps only a couple of centimetres square. Slightly cheekily, this work apparently represented Belgium, Scotland and England on the basis that Panneels is from Belgium, taught in Sunderland and works in Scotland.

This stood out to me, combining the aspects I liked in the previous two works. It is surrealist: the practical map is rendered impractical through its tiny size. It’s also an astoundingly detailed representation of a familiar form rendered in an uncompromising material. It’s brilliant.

Glass World continues at the National Glass Centre until 10 March.

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The Owl and the Pussycat

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Dog wash

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Undoing the unwinding

In the shower this morning, I noticed that my shower gel was inviting me to ‘unwind’, clearly meaning that I ought to relax. This got me thinking: what if I were to ‘unwind’ so far that I ‘came undone’?

I’ve always understood ‘come undone’ to be a slightly dated euphemism for developing psychiatric illness. It seemed strange that ‘unwinding’ would have such positive psychological connotations, while a superficially similar phrase would have such negative connotations in the same field.

Perhaps if someone ’unwinds’ too far, they fall apart? Perhaps it’s a hangover from dated social attitudes: when being ‘buttoned up’ was positive, ‘coming undone’ would be negative, but perhaps we’re all a little more suspicious of being reserved today?

Once I was out of the shower, I obviously reached for the dictionary. Don’t we all?

The OED reckons that ‘unwind’ in this sense is relatively new, first noted in 1958. Figurative words like ‘unbend’ and ‘slacken’ have a much longer history of usage, but I can see why they wouldn’t work quite so well on a modern bottle of shower gel.

To ‘come undone’ is a little older, from 1899, but doesn’t actually mean what I thought it did. It means something more like a reversal of fortunes: a good thing is done and then becomes undone. A previously well-performing horse suddenly loses a race, for example, or a previously successful plan falls apart. So when we talk of people coming undone, there’s nothing specifically psychiatric in that at all: ‘coming undone’ could equally mean losing a fortune, for example.

It would be fascinating to re-read whatever I’ve read in the past that has led me to this bizarrely incorrect interpretation… but I can’t think of any specific examples to reassess!

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023.

Remembering an assassination

Sixty years ago today, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I had yet to be born, but the occasion of the anniversary brings to mind my visit to Dallas five years ago.

I wrote at the time about how my mental picture of the area in which the assassination occurred differed markedly from reality, despite having seen it on screen countless times. I think about that from time to time, especially in those disorientating moments when my perception of a situation suddenly shifts.

I also often find myself thinking about the memorial, and in particular, how the emptiness and absence was the thing that made it so remarkably effective. A blank space can be more powerful than words. Silence can be more powerful than speech.

In my post at the time, I also wrote:

Would anybody really want such a focus on their death as opposed to their life? Why would anyone want to be remembered as the victim of their own murder, as opposed to being remembered for their lifetime of achievements?

And that, perhaps, is the strongest sentiment I associate with this anniversary. I think my loved ones know that I don’t mind what happens to me after I die, and that they should do whatever brings them the most comfort. What with being dead and all, I won’t really mind. But I have a strong aversion to being remembered for my death, or my death being marked in preference to my life.

This makes this post a bit hypocritical, I realise, but I hope that no one marks the 60th anniversary of my death. I mean, it’s hardly a problem I expect to have, I’m sure I’ll be long-forgotten. But I’d much rather be remembered in the context of my life than of my death.

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