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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.

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

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.

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

I’ve visited ‘Confluence’

What happens when you take three artists who are used to working in ceramics and give them a ten-day residency at the National Glass Centre? They try to explore ideas in a new material, resulting in an exhibition that—for me, at least—didn’t really work.

The three artists involved were Bouke de Vries, Andrea Walsh and Andrew Livingstone.

Andrea Walsh experimented with the fluidity of glass and ceramic, seeing how each could be made to fold or flex, almost like fabric. Her pieces were mostly tiny and intricate. They felt a bit like the artists’ artist’s response to the challenge, in that they explored the material, but didn’t offer an awful lot to a casual observer like me. I don’t really know how fluid ceramics can be, so a comparison with glass was a bit lost on me.

Bouke de Vries’s work seemed to mostly involve putting ceramic pots in glass boxes, marked with words like ‘fragile’ and ‘handle with care’. I appreciated the whimsy of doing that in glass, but I didn’t get much beyond that. According to the labels, the artist was intending to draw some connection with Vermeer’s Milkmaid, which appeared as four tapestries, but I didn’t really understand how the whole thing was supposed to fit together.

Andrew Livingstone exhibited a bowl of glass emoji-like fruit which I enjoyed, and which was displayed alongside the artist’s earlier painting which featured the fruit. I thought this was an amusing commentary on his style and the artistic process, upending the usual way in which still life art works. Until I read the label, I didn’t realise that there was another sexual layer of meaning in that the fruits are all used in ‘sexting’ and also reference ‘fruit’ as a homophobic slur.

Livingstone also exhibited a glass model of a house in its own section of the gallery, surrounded on the floor by what3words grid references. I had no idea what this was all about: according to the label, it aimed to “explore ceramic and glass as queer politically charged materials.” I didn’t get it, not least as there wasn’t even any ceramic in the piece, as far as I could make out.

All things considered, I suspect this exhibition would be of more interest to those with some background knowledge or experience of working artistically with ceramic or glass than it was to me.

Confluence continues at the National Glass Centre until 10 September.

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

I’ve been to visit ‘Harvest: Fruit Gathering’

This collaborative exhibition by Neil Wilkin and Rachael Woodman, previously exhibited in Wales as ‘Cynhaeaf: Casglu Ffrwythau” was brilliant. I’ve never seen anything quite like these glass sculptures before, and their abstract, colourful nature is right up my street.

While each piece isn’t individually attributed, Wilkin’s usual thing is displaying organic forms through glasswork (the ‘fruits’) where Woodman’s is the collections of tubes (the ‘gatherings’). I was more aesthetically taken with the latter, though the former did strike me as being an especially challenging ‘one shot to get this right’ sort of art-form.

‘Harvest: Fruit Gathering’ continues at the National Glass Centre until 12 March.

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

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