Spontaneous Combustion: Hot Glass Performance and the B Team

This week’s blog post is written by Madelynn Cullings, a current Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University, who spent this past summer working as the Public History Intern at the Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass. Madelynn’s work and research will aid in creating a documentary focused on the B Team, a glass performance troupe active in the 1990s. One of her favorite aspects of this research has been studying the B Team’s Spontaneous Combustion series, which is the focus of this blog.

“Failure, the future, myself—that’s my fear too,” jokes B Team member Thor Bueno as he reads fears written on small slips of paper during the B Team’s production of “Fear Jar.” Incorporated into the B Team’s 1996 performance of Spontaneous Combustion, “Fear Jar” encouraged audience participation. During the show audience members wrote down their deepest fears on sheets of paper. The artists then collected the slips and encased them in an oblong glass vessel—incinerating the fears in the process. “Fear Jar” was a consistent part of the B Team’s repertoire, signifying the radical form of experimentation that characterized the artistic collaborative.

After sealing “Fear Jar,” steam bellows from the vessel as the paper fears are incinerated inside, turning the interior of the vessel dark black. Thor Bueno is pictured turning the vessel while team member Zesty Meyers stands prepared to assist. B Team Records, Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass.

In anticipation of an upcoming Corning Museum of Glass documentary focused on the B Team, this blog takes a step back in time to explore the world of experimental glass performance of the 1990s. Two landmark performances by the B Team in 1996 and 1997 solidified glass as a fine art medium—pushing glass into the realm of performance art. These new possibilities for glass emerged from the B Team’s Spontaneous Combustion series staged at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, New York.

B Team concept drawing for “Fear Jar,” c. 1995. B Team Records, Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass.

Active in the 1990s, the B Team was a group of hot glass performers that challenged conventions, breaking stereotypes about glass and inspiring future generations of glass artists in the process. The self-described “punk glass artists” disrupted the world of fine art, defying conventions and promoting experimental approaches to glass1. Seminal demonstrations early in the group’s career brought evidence of traditional techniques to universities while showcasing the possibilities of glass as an artistic medium2. Infused with a healthy dose of humor, B Team performances and demonstrations excited viewers and provoked inward reflection.

In Spontaneous Combustion, B Team members created innovative experiments including, “The Big Apple,” “Fear Jar,” and “Hot Glass Rain.” The B Team’s experimental approach to glass was displayed throughout the performance, involving hair-raising and daring skits that showcased the intensity of the hot-shop environment. The climax of the show involved group member Evan Snyderman ladling molten glass “rain” on top of a steel umbrella, with Thor Bueno standing underneath. The glass rain cascaded down from above, falling in long, sinuous patterns. Following the performance, audience members jumped onto the stage, prying off pieces of freshly cooled glass that had landed on the umbrella to keep as souvenirs3.

The B Team performs “Hot Glass Rain” at a performance at UrbanGlass on November 6, 1996. Evan Snyderman pours a ladle of molten glass on top of a steel umbrella. Thor Bueno is pictured standing below the protection of the umbrella while Kelly Lamb appears in the background on top of the scaffolding structure. B Team Records, Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass.
B Team Rehearsal and Performance of Spontaneous Combustion 1, Circa 1996

Following the success of Spontaneous Combustion in 1997, the B Team developed a second performance. Upping the ante, Spontaneous Combustion II incorporated groundbreaking conceptual approaches. The artists first appeared behind a scrim, with only their shadows visible as they shaped, molded, and blew hot glass. A series of lightbulbs fell from the ceiling, and globs of molten glass were fired at blown-glass targets. Kelly Lamb danced on a puddle of molten glass while flames burned beneath her feet. Rigorously choreographed and extensively rehearsed, the effort brought together a large crew of 40 support staff. The B Team received recognition for their performance, accepting a Bessie Award in 1998 for Spontaneous Combustion II. Today the B Team is remembered for their efforts in bridging the worlds of craft and fine art through their daring feats of hot glass performance.

B Team Spontaneous Combustion 2, Circa 1997

For more information about the B Team, consult the B Team Records at the Rakow Research Library and read our earlier blog post about the acquisition of this collection in 2018.

1 Andrew Page, “Burning Down the House.” Glass, no. 114 (Spring 2009), page 36.

2 Reflections offered by Eric Meek, senior manager of Hot Glass Programs at The Corning Museum of Glass, on his perception of a B Team demonstration in 1993 emphasized the importance of the strong technical training of the B Team members. He drew attention to the demonstration presenting techniques drawn from the teachings of Lino Tagliapietra at the Pilchuck School of Glass. At this time methods of glass education were largely drawn from the teachings of early pioneers in the American Studio Glass movement including individuals such as Fritz Dreisbach.

3 Andrew Page, “Burning Down the House.” Glass, no. 114 (Spring 2009), page, 38.

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