History Repeated

History Repeated - group exhibition

31 January - 25 March 2017

Inspired by the theme of the 2017 Ausglass conference, (r)evolve, a group of Australia's top glass makers offer their own reinterpretation of an object from the Corning Museum of Glass collection.

History Repeated features work by Ruth Allen, Gabriella Bisetto, Jo Bone, Lisa Cahill, Scott Chaseling, Richard Clements, Mel Douglas, Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott, Judi Elliott, Mark Eliott, Jeremy Lepisto, Nikki Main, Jenni Martiniello, Peter Minson, Tom Moore, Peter Nilson, Kirstie Rea, Paddy Robinson, Tom Rowney, Luna Ryan, Harriet Schwarzrock, Belinda Toll and Nick Wirdnam.

This exhibition is proudly supported the Corning Museum of Glass.

Image: Belinda Toll, Puzzled (detail). Photo: Adam McGrath


Possibilities in Pluperfect

By John Drury

With the premise that each of her selected artists would respond to an object of given historical value made of glass, curator Mel George has inspired a group of 23 makers working in Australia, to task. Her aptly titled History Repeated is a raucous endeavor indicative of the inquisitive mind and nature that we have also come to associate with George’s own creative practice. To that end, the collection at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York serves as well-spring, fodder for the imaginations of the diverse group of glassmakers on exhibition.

Proof of fresh (or at least refreshed) vision, each artist’s physical interpretation is, although born of tradition, a unique creation historically rooted in a past glorified.. To be “historic” is by definition-to be: famous or important in history, or potentially so. Each of these artists, in reflective production, makes their own bid at lasting notoriety to “bookmark” a moment in time. Each aims at an experience reverential, though certainly respectful of their own studied practice in the vitreous arts.

Joanna Bone was given the oldest object in our group of participants (25 BC), a basic, however, liberally-colored cup. Sea urchin-like, her Marine Geode 1 dispenses of the kaleidoscopic color of the Italian artifact; Bone’s dark response to celebrated foundations, the shuttered reality a misunderstood and mysterious past. It is beneath the surface of the sea that history begins.

At the other end of our intuitively generated time spectrum, Tom Rowney reinterprets a vessel by a member of an esteemed family dedicated to glassmaking in Venice, since 1397, Italian Giampolo Seguso (b. 1942). Master Seguso’s able Vase Ciliegio (2001) is a study in practiced finesse and gathered knowledge. Rowney’s stunning pair incorporating cane work and aventurine gold and green glasses in replacement is a fete in deconstructing the methods of the originals talented maker, to also highlight Tom’s own ingenuity and craftsmanship in construction. Each exhibits an expertise in their shared and chosen craft, dutifully pursued and rarely accomplished.

Luna Ryan works often in collaboration with artist friends from the original peoples of Australia; most notably, an impressive concerted outing with Jock Puantjimi for their joint exhibition at Canberra Glassworks, in 2013. Always proceeding intuitively, in favored working method and often casting of recycled glass gathered from discarded TV screens, Luna introduces the sculptural in replacement of a flat and handsome window pane (late 17th century) manufactured by the Addison Glass Company of New York. Luna’s Interrupted Bush Shelter is a knotted and make-do effort serving respect and place - the power of the natural to infiltrate, to alter and alternatively to comfort.

A contemporary object made during the earliest days of the studio glass movement provides Harriet Schwarzrock’s challenge. A work from Harvey Littleton’s Interrupted Loop series (1978) receives a nearly verbatim response to his hypothetical call. Harriet’s Infinite Loop is less a counterpoint, than witty companion to Littleton’s fluid escapade in captured space and light. Finding inspiration in mimicry, Harriet’s version is at once newly insightful, and reverent to the pioneer in glass.

Mel Douglas combines paper and glass to pay homage to legendary Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985). Wirkkala’s leaf-shaped dish “3369” for Littala Glassworks (1953; a project the influential Wirkkala realized in bronze and wood in addition to glass), strives to capture and repeat naturally produced beauty, by automation. Douglas instead gives us Wirkkala (two leaves, one broken), a hybrid space of image and object explored in comparative duality, to reveal those inconsistencies inherent in the hand - that touch of the person - making it unique; a coveted and elusive quality.

Referencing his own history, Jeremy Lepisto is inspired by a dense black, souvenir pin face from 1876 by Philadelphia’s own Gillinder and Sons (this the year Gillinder both produced the glass adornment depicting his city’s Memorial Hall and built an operating glass plant as part of the nation’s Centennial Exhibition, a component of the world’s first World Fair in America). Inside his nearly empty glass and fabricated steel shipping container, a single figure (the ambitious artist and American transplant to Oz) memorializes his old studio - that left behind, in the US. The indelible stain of experienced time finds in Jeremy’s Alongside, the poignant result a memory rooted in investigated melancholy - change feeling at times facile and otherwise empty, tires spinning in place; change for the sake of change.

Pushing from behind a metaphorical and seemingly ever-present veil, to claim overdue equalities, Paddy Robinson turns traditional women’s work on its head. A harbinger of philosophical revolution, fired fiberglass allows for the addition of Robinson’s palm-prints to strategically question by passionate practice, the legitimacy of a given past.

In respect of the sometimes risky, time consuming and labor intensive processes invested in handmade glass, Nick Wirdnam forwards a nod to inspired production - single cup for single cup - in simple interchange. In contrast to its stimulus, black opacity replaces a relatively contemporary, clear and iridized tumbler from 1975; flipping also the emblazoned horse shoe to capture and hold luck, gold leaf is now the flourishing touch, an attempt of one-upmanship.

Lisa Cahill instead matches season for season, referencing the three months of the year strictly dedicated to the winter period. Cahill’s Winter is a frosty trio of panels gradating stubborn white to icy blue, to slow the march of time in respect the beat of the drummer. Nothing is set in stone and the measurement of time is a man-made construct. Designed by Laura de Santillana in 1978 for Venini Glassworks (that legendary Italian factory beginning in 1921), Santillana’s work Inverno, offers like graduated colour as impetus.

And like fellow artist Luna Ryan, Peter Nilsson works with glass from a recycled television screen. His lovely Sub Rosa is a slumped and engraved platform with applied imagery similar an early English tumbler (1760-1780). A transplant to Australia from Sweden, Peter tells the story of his first trek through the Australian bush. He recalls his depicted lyrebird looking directly into his eyes, the indigenous fowl immortalized in both glass objects - in Peter’s mind a call of nature from the flamboyant bird - welcoming his recent arrival and influencing his chosen pursuit a reduced consumer foot-print.

Our most literal exchange comes with Peter Minson’s version of a Swiss wine siphon from the first half of the 19th century. His literal, though comely Wine Thief is a humorous take on the wine tasters perhaps dually-served purpose in the tasting of product, a cheeky copy in pursuit of flavour and quality - inebriation the potential result of dutifully pursued perfection and the primeval, in hands-on comedy and tragedy.

Gabriella Bisetto’s entangled Ode to Henning Brand references the discovery of phosphorous in 1669; oddly as history tells us, in pursuit of the “elixir of life” by way of fermented human urine. Bisetto’s single 16th century retort is amplified in displayed production - numbered scientific glass and steel stand insinuating a go-for-it effort potentially elevating base materials; perhaps in progress - perhaps only a convoluted whimsy in trailed ink.

In also honoring those glass makers preceding her own experience with the material, Nikki Main replaces a crude solid paperweight (made in 1876) commemorating the landing at Plymouth Rock with a blown and skillfully cut rendition of a key. Cape Inscription is a mocking gift to all founders in an age-old procedure awarding privilege with promotion, a poignant stab at Johnny-come-lately to “discovered” land.

Adhering to a “nothing new under the sun” philosophy, Judi Elliott exclaims Still Here! From 699 BC to 20th Century. Elliott’s own painterly and brightly colored version of an Egyptian tile (or inlay; 79-1 BC) claims the “now”, to cast beauty - a perceived consistency, into the limelight.

Mark Eliott-McFoggarty’s whimsically flame-worked tableau Apparition for the Extraction of Cloud Essence, finds inspiration in a favorite amongst glassmakers, the otherworldly Trick Glass of early 15th century Spanish descent. His rendition of likely event finds Spanish alchemist and jilted lover Sergio Foggartino stump-top, contested vessel in hand and on bended knee-performing (begging) to draw the attention of a loved one. In Foggartino’s quest for acceptance, we find commonality in desire.

The uniformity displayed in a set of ancient Grecian, glass beads seduces Ruth Allen’s own Milk Crate, an unruly jumble of cast glass the imagined ruin a direct result of our present peculiar time; to appreciate the ever-evolving nature of progress - while acknowledging some consistency in results well documented.

It is the presumed space beneath the utilitarian, glass shingle (1881) capturing Kirstie Rea’s introspective re-evaluation of the natural. Employing the wall as canvas in support of her ethereal pencil and light study, insinuating a garden shed, it is not object alone but wonder that metaphorically casts green light on the imagined captured space of Interior.

National treasure and recipient of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2013, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello’s cunning Allegory allows a metaphorical place of shelter and breeding for the long-neck turtle, here represented by clustered turtle shells. In celebrating her own culture, Jenni imitates the classical form realized in both European and American factories - the repositioned and ribbed pocket flask made late in the 1700s, to accommodate her invented pool of water; her own cane and millefiori vessel reclining to reference her ongoing inspiration from, and concern with, Aboriginal history and practice - those techniques and traditions inherent in the everyday existence of her people. Perhaps incongruous, you sometimes require the utilitarian in the catching of dreams.

Collaborative duo Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott retain only the incised and level line around the lip of an Italian beaker witness to the first century. Although preserving very little else in evidence of the original in question, employing a work from their own Deluge series and using the same single cutting-wheel profile (that of the original maker), they display the ability of a dated and basic technique to adapt to peculiarities in taste, over time.

What essentially serves simply as an updated version of a 15th century anthropomorphic pouring vessel, Tom Moore’s own two-headed monster Metamorphic Quadruped, transforms animal, vegetable and mineral in a mash-up the envy of any alchemist. Tom’s newly colourised version contemporises.

A Swiss-made window of rondels from the 16th century motivates Scott Chaseling to produce his wheeled View Point for a Point of View - a play of words defining a wheeled portal allowing individuality. To each his own.

Recycled glass building blocks obscure a precise reading (by low-tech pixilation of sorts) of the dispersed decal imagery replacing precisely cut-paper scenes, in reference and contrast to Belinda Toll’s adopted Bohemian paperweight, to highlight the often truly incomplete understanding of any object of antiquity. A clear and concise look at the past can be just as elusive as that search to predict the future. The aptly titled Puzzled leaves plenty of room for doubt.

Our group of artists remind us that truth then, and even beauty, is so often left to the eye of the beholder - the storyteller, as informed by their own time; each of us, understanding our own reality - each of our artists claiming stake, rightfully and respectfully a history their own. History is in the making.


John Drury is a NYC-based artist, writer, teacher and curator. He is a contributing editor of GLASS magazine and is at present, completing his text for inclusion in the monograph to accompany Preston Singletary’s upcoming exhibition, Raven and the Box of Daylight at the Museum of Glass in America. In 2013 Drury and collaborative partner of 29 years, Robbie Miller of Vancouver (the art-duo known as CUD originally meeting at the world renown Pilchuck Glass School), served as artists-in-residence at the Canberra Glassworks. John will next curate an exhibition for the Agnes Varis Art Center in Brooklyn, as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of UrbanGlass. Mr. Drury has received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, for his own works in sculpture.