Virtual Journeys into our Collection: Thoughts from a Conservator

This recurring blog series will feature virtual gallery walks with staff members from The Corning Museum of Glass. Everyone at our Museum interacts with the collection in different ways depending on the job they do and the perspective they bring. Hear from fascinating people and learn about their favorite objects as they provide a virtual peek at some of the treasures in our collection—and make plans to come see them in person when we reopen! This next comes from Lianne Uesato, an assistant conservator.


 

“rain hail snow ice / I love watching the river”

Ikkyu (15th century Zen Master), translated by Stephen Berg
Lianne Uesato

Conservators tend to like predictability. We study how materials deteriorate over many years and rely on research and input from our colleagues to make decisions about how best to steward, or care for, artwork. While most of the historical artwork in the Museum was made using glass and glassmaking techniques that have been studied extensively, contemporary work is often purposely experimental.

Experimental work can and should encourage questions. For a conservator, the questions are about materiality: How was the piece made? What is it made of? How will unconventional materials or combinations of materials age over time? If part of the artwork breaks, should it be repaired, replaced or left broken? How do changes in the original material affect the piece as an artwork? And on and on.

The recent New Glass Now exhibition showcased innovative processes and formulas that encouraged me to question what glass is.

Karina Malling’s work explores the vitreous spectrum between sand and glass. The dialogue of color, translucency, and texture inspires me to reimagine a material I spend all day with.

Karina Malling’s Transcendence
 
Atelier NL’s Zandglas

By collecting raw sands and melting them into glass, Atelier NL investigates place through materials. Just as if I asked people raised in the same city to describe where they are from, the crucibles show a complex sense of place through compositional diversity.

 
The Lapi Boli Project

It is fascinating to see artists testing boundaries by asking ‘what if’ questions—like what if there was another way to make glass vessels? The Lapi Boli Project shifts the idea of glassmaking by using a ceramics technique to make vessels from glass frit.

 

Other work uses properties of materials to highlight the tension between known and unknown. A colleague’s reference to the Pitch Drop Experiment confirmed my suspicions about the secret life of this artwork. Asphalt is creeping–imperceptibly slowly–down sheet glass in Tomas Prokop’s piece.

Tomáš Prokop’s Parting (Second Version)
 
Rui Sasaki’s Liquid Sunshine / I am a Pluviophile

The glow from phosphorescent particles embedded in Rui Sasaki’s glass droplets changes in intensity depending on environmental conditions. Material explanations are no substitute for the wonder of glowing glass fading into a black room.

 
Christine Tarkowski’s Copper Pour

Glass and copper appear to drip in Christine Tarkowski’s work. I had the good fortune to get lost in this hard, delicate, slightly dangerous piece for hours while working on it, and still have the feeling it is moving very slightly—especially when my back is turned.

 

Some artists used materials to question permanence and perfection. Maria Bang Espersen intentionally incorporates incompatible pieces of window glass, brick and rocks into her vessels to create stress, cracks, and eventually breakage. Even if I know how it ends, I like the unfolding of a well-told story.

Maria Band Espersen’s Things Change
Uesato working on Misha Kahn’s chandelier Ponchan (2017.4.16)

With materials changing unpredictably like water to ice or rain, how can anyone steward all the unknowns?!

Conservators try to prepare our future selves by capturing whatever we know now. We take a lot of photographs and record observations periodically in order to document changes to a piece over time. We can estimate how an experimental artwork might age based on its materials, but insight from artists provides context and depth.

Clarifying intention, materials, and process with living artists helps us understand how to best care for their work. We can collect answers to our what/what if/why/how questions through questionnaires, interviews, and ongoing conversations. Artist-submitted sample material from the making process can allow us to run tests without risk of damaging an artwork.

 

Asking questions about and documenting experimental artwork will continue in response to changes yet unknown. Understanding that preparation is perpetual, I still like to muster an inner Ikkyu and enjoy watching the experiment run.


Click here to read the previous post in this series by senior administrative assistant Violet Wilson.

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