24 July to 30 August 2014

Kristel Britcher

Metamorphosi by Adele Sliuzas

I have always been drawn to crystals. As I child I enjoyed nothing more than collecting pieces of rose quartz from amongst the rocks on my parents property in the Adelaide Hills. Their faceted surfaces, luxe shine, and misty pink colour were mesmerizing. I felt like Indiana Jones. Praised for its amplification properties, quartz is said to vibrate and magnify a person's energies. Perhaps this explains some of our fascination with crystals, a connection that stems back throughout history. Used in ceremony, as protective amulets, in weapons, trade and witchcraft, they are a symbol of power and of natural beauty.

Kristel Britcher's practice investigates the natural order of things through glass works that look at movement in light, the passing of time and the natural origins of the landscape. Her strong link to nature has led her to investigate mineral and molecular structures, creating modular assemblages that resemble crystalline forms. Within Metamorphosi, the aesthetic as well as the intricate growth of crystals have influenced Britcher. Formed in magmatic and metamorphic processes, crystals are geometrical growths of mineral atoms that have joined together to create intricate structures. The gradual, yet exact buildup of materials creates the mesmerizing patterns and shapes that we recognize.

Britcher's body of work explores ideas of growth, and the passing of time. Each work is slowly and precisely built, beginning with the most basic element- glass cane. Using square, circular and triangular cane and murrine she follows an orderly geometric pattern to build the crystalline sculptures. Each work can have up to 100 individual pieces of cane, which have been cut and ground three times to bring them to a fine polish and are then hot joined. Britcher's intuitive relationship with her craft, and her understanding of the material qualities of glass allow her to experiment as each piece grows. Symmetry and spatial arrangement form an important part of each composition. In this slow, yet precise and instinctively designed pattern, the sculptures begin to evolve. Each work is a metamorphosis of the process; the structures of the sculptures evolve in relation to the shapes of the cane.

Core to the process is Britcher's transmutation of glass cane and the murrine. An ancient technique, murrine and cane are widely used within contemporary glass practice to create patterns through glass surfaces. Britcher's work for Metamorphosi has altered and subverted these processes, exploring their sculptural potential beyond traditional use in patternmaking. The techniques she has developed could be considered a 'new-murrine', or 'neo-murrine', that reference yet disrupt, allowing for new hybrids and permutations. It is a relationship to tradition, as seen many times within the history of art, 'that involves the acceptance of tradition's constraints at the same time that it subverts and reacts against them' . In this way, the work examines the history of glass, offering a 'line of flight' into a new area of practice. The titles of the works, all in Italian, drive this further. Referencing the Venetian heritage of the techniques, the titles translate; growth, change, metamorphosis, permutation and evolution.

The 'neo-murrine' process utilises repetitive elements, but moves beyond pure patternmaking, and into sculptural arrangements. Britcher has honed in on the materiality of murrine and cane. As components, they can be reproduced with accuracy to provide the base geometric units which can be transformed into almost anything. Her process uses a systemization, where complexity can be reduced to modular form, relating to the history of art, and abstractionism as much as to nature. I am reminded of the organised complexity of Jasper Johns abstract paintings of the 70's, with cross hatched geometric patterns that imbue the painting with energy.

The crystalline structures uphold a level of agency, where their growth, slow but undeniable, occurs when no one is looking. Across the body of work, there are elements that repeat, but that are rendered at different scales, with different purposes. What in one work is a purely abstract sculpture, is shifted slightly and takes on the functional elements of a vase, and then shrinks down, becoming the handle of a jug. Rather than utilitarian additions, the 'growths' impinge on the glassware. In Faceta, a swelling bulge of blue and green cane pushes against the base of the glass tumblers, looking as though it could break through and continue to flourish within the vessel. The Cristallino Bowl resembles a cluster of quartz, with clear glass refracting the small stripes of colour along the edge of the cane. The work pushes the functional qualities of a bowl to a limit, remaining closely connected to the purely sculptural Cristallino Compositions. They are restless works that are waiting to grow, capturing the energy of the mineral forms they reference.

Britcher is playful with her use of the sculptural elements, balancing them with formal and practical qualities that relate to her previous bodies of production glassware. The work doesn't fit squarely into sculptural or functional glass, instead morphing between the two. Britcher sees Metamorphosi as a design concept exhibition, exploring the many ways that her 'neo-murrine' process can be presented. Incorporating experimental and sculptural elements into functional glassware Britcher explores the link between her areas of practice, allowing her skills as a craftsperson, as a businessperson and as an artist, to examine conceptual and pragmatic ideas. There is a beautiful push and pull between elements, and a flow between the works as a whole. What is fascinating about Britcher's body of work are the multiple facets, and complex arrangements of glass. Reflecting and refracting light give the pieces a feeling of natural energy, of permutation and growth. Through her process Britcher has transformed the role of murrine and cane in order to explore the limitless sculptural potential. Like the crystals they are influenced by, they embody natural beauty and mesmerizing patterns and shapes.

Adele Sliuzasis an arts writer and curator based in Adelaide. She is a founding Director of Grid Projects ARI and works at the Assistant Curator at JamFactory.