June 09, 2012
Alphabet and Embracing Innovation, Volume 2 are two very different exhibitions. Alphabet is a light-hearted look at the letters of the alphabet, each made in glass by a well-known glass artist. Embracing Innovation, Volume 2 showcases innovative research and design by Leah Heiss, Brendan Murphy, Greg Daly, Lan Nguyen-hoan, Rajiv Padhye, Stephen Barrass and Peter Schumacher.
Mel George, Alphabet's curator and a glass artist herself, has used great skill in pairing up the work of each artist with a letter from the alphabet that suits their art practice.
Once primarily seen as a teaching aid, alphabet books and blocks have in modern times become a showcase for the art of the illustrator.
However, while letters of the alphabet have been used in all sorts of ways ranging from decorative wall plaques to furniture and sculpture, this collection by 26 individual artists must have some claim to being unique. Each letter in the series reflects in a miniature form (the only restriction being a 10 centimetre x 10 centimetre size limit) the artist who made it. Along the way there has been plenty of innovation and fun.
Ben Edols's and Kathy Elliot's vessel Big E, branded with the letter E engraved in red against a white and red background, is one of the most striking and more obvious displays of a letter.
Mel Douglas's refined engraved bowl with its asymmetrical opening is obviously for the letter O. Klaus Moje and Richard Whiteley are the most elegant and grown-up in their sophisticated geometric designs for A and I. Jacqueline Gropp's Enation is an attractive interpretation with glass tendrils forming the letter Y and Trish Roan's 'K' for Knot is equally sculptural being contrived from a complicated arrangement of glass stringer or thread and reflective glass mirror.
Tom Moore and Tom Rowney bring their sense of play to their creation of fantastical creatures. Moore's Z for Zebedee is a glass sculptured zebra-like creature carried breezily along on a skateboard in the form of a fish. Rowney's clever and magical Seven Sea Horses Swimming in Slowly Swaying Seaweed is of course the letter S.
Alphabet is a delightful and clever project designed to appeal to children but which will obviously also be appreciated by grown-ups. The concept is well served by the artists involved.
The Embracing Innovation, Volume 2 exhibition provides access to research projects and a forum in which ideas and research can be discussed by people also working in these and related fields of practice. For other viewers it can provide some insight, aided by informative text, into what design researchers are currently investigating and how new technology is being used in a practical way.
How else would you know, that Rajiv Padhye in collaboration with Lyndon Arnold have produced a very successful bullet-resistant vest made from a combination of a scientifically produced fibre called keviar and wool from the humble sheep? Leah Heiss's project is deceptive as it initially looks like an artful sculpture of a seed pod. Her work, however, is linked with exploration of the human digestive system to diagnose disease. The small seeds are being developed into a series of devices that change their form after they are swallowed in order to pick up information on their journey through the body.
Stephen Barrass' series of three small digitally fabricated bell-shaped objects called The Shape of the Sound of the Shape of the Sound also deals with units that change their form. The sound of each bell is digitised and fabricated as a 3D form and recast in steel. The shape of each object is constructed from the sound of the object before it so that each one is slightly different from its predecessor, although related to it. Where this transformation of sound into shape and shape into sound will end is perhaps only a question Barrass can answer.
Brendan Murphy's work Gathered to Mourn also uses the 3D printing process. His units in mild steel are fabricated so that once joined they cannot be pulled apart - a reverse of the usual malleability of fabricated units and reflective of the nature of the mourning ring. The components must grow together in complex layers rather than be assembled after individual production. Murphy cites drawing as the beginning of his ideas. Lan Nguyen-hoan also makes the transition from the drawing on the page into another art form. Her beautiful paper sculpture based on the movement of grasses is translated into digital animation. By not making the viewer choose between one art form or another the process becomes part of the realisation of the idea.
Peter Schumacher's and Greg Daly's practice is object-centred and informed by research into new technologies. Schumacher's overhead light called Leaf Lamp is based on the way tree branches grow in nature. Multiple ''leaves'' are made from unbleached stiffened wool and radiate from interweaving branches. The lamp is energy efficient and, although manufactured on a commercial scale, can be assembled in individual configurations.
Daly's two ceramic vessels are a revelation. They illustrate the beauty and transitory nature of light that can be achieved through his mastery of lustre glazes. In the larger of the two pots, the surface colour is elusive and ever responsive to the changing light. Its bottom half is so luminous and ethereal that its very materiality seems to be challenged. Daly's work is accompanied by a kiln, video and test tiles to explain the processes involved in his ceramic practice but, despite all this scientific paraphernalia, the wondrous nature of his glazes cannot but suggest that alchemy and magic is somehow involved.