Fleeting Beauty: Justin Ginsberg and Yuka Otani Explore Unexpected Properties of Glass

Both Justin Ginsberg and Yuka Otani love to push the boundaries of what’s possible in glass. They question the word “no,” and love to explore the versatility of glass—the way it surprises us again and again. During their May residency at The Studio, neither artist is focused on making work to stand the test of time, but rather work that showcases the impermanence of the material.

“In the glass world, you’re taught all these rules—don’t mix these glasses together,” said Justin. “They won’t survive. You’re taught these things, but that’s the realm in which I like to play, and I’m constantly surprised by how it works.

An installation by Justin Ginsberg: Thousands of hand pulled, clear glass strands, suspended, bent cold, and held under tension.

An installation by Justin Ginsberg: Thousands of hand pulled, clear glass strands, suspended, bent cold, and held under tension.

“None of this glass is annealed,” he said, pointing at some of his work laid out on the table. “All of it is mixed glasses that shouldn’t be mixed together. They’re totally incompatible, but here they are. What else do I think that’s impossible is actually possible?”

For Justin, who runs the glass program at the University of Texas at Arlington, it’s a profound respect for the material that drives his process of discovery. After ten years of working with glass, he draws inspiration from how “totally limitless” the material seems. During his residency, Justin is looking at the stress patterns in glass, viewed through a polariscope. He works to manipulate light through polarizers, revealing inconsistencies in the atomic structure of glass, which comes across as patterns, colors, and other visual effects in the glass.

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Justin is no stranger to The Studio, first coming in 2006 to assist Martin Janecky with a class he was teaching.

“The last time I was here, I was a nobody just trying to learn glass,” he said. “I was working for one of the best glassmakers in the world—to be here in that time frame was very meaningful to me. I’m very honored to be back here, and to know that the things I’ve been doing have enough quality or substance to them that a place like Corning would want to support it and bring me here. It helps me make work that can totally disintegrate—that kind of work doesn’t fit in a lot of places—and it’s a nice form of validation.”

Justin Ginsberg's still photograph taken from a performance of glass being cast into water.

Justin Ginsberg’s still photograph taken from a performance of glass being cast into water.

Yuka Otani’s work is a bit unconventional, as well. She has long been fascinated by the properties that glass and hard candy share, and has made it her mission to combine the two materials into “hybrid” vessels during her residency.

A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Yuka loves making work that is allowed to change. She likes playing with the idea that materials can be present and absent at the same time, and is exploring that with two different types of “sugar glass”—regular hard candy made with granulated sugar, and Isomalt, a sugar substitute produced from beet sugar.

Yuka Otani's installation made up of "sweet vessels" on view at the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan.

Yuka Otani’s installation made up of “sweet vessels” on view at the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan.

“I am trying to mimic the beauty of glass with the candy,” Yuka said. “The bottom half (of a vessel) is glass, and the top is cast candy. Visually, it’s difficult to distinguish which is which.”

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Justin and Yuka will be in town during GlassFest, a four-day celebration of the fire arts in America’s Crystal City, and they are using the opportunity to present a pop-up exhibit showcasing some of their work at The Studio. COExist brings together the work of these two artists from “different cultural backgrounds,” but who “coincidentally share a common interest in combining different types of ‘glass’ to seek unexpected moments of beauty.” See the exhibit at 32 E. Market Street on May 22 and 23 from 6-10 p.m.

Both Justin and Yuka will present a lecture on May 28 from 12-1 p.m. at The Studio, discussing their previous work, what inspires them, and what they learned during their residencies.

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