Forms of Collaboration in Norwegian Glass Art
Education in glass art does not exist in Norway. This is why Norwegian glass art is so international – and so diverse.
‘Artists who works with glass in Norway have had to learn it in another country, or they’re foreign-born’, says Æsa Björk Thorsteinsdóttir to Norwegiancrafts. Thorsteinsdóttir is a prime example of both alternatives, given that she is originally from Iceland and has studied at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.
‘The knowledge our glass artists possess does not stem from one environment. There’s expertise here from many countries: Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Czech Republic, Italy, England, Scotland, the USA and Australia – to mention the most important.’
One of the central features of glassblowing is collaboration, says Thorsteinsdóttir. As artists watch the glass industry collapse and the market shrink, they realise the importance of seeking new ways of working.
‘In Norway, this importance becomes even more apparent due to the lacking common ground that is often found in countries with their own glass education program’, she explains.
S12 – Open Access Studio
Æsa Björk Thorsteinsdóttir has herself contributed to the collaborative phenomenon by helping found what has become a powerhouse for Norwegian glass art: S12. This is a Bergen-based workshop and gallery for glass and ceramic art, which Thorsteinsdóttir started in 2007 with ceramicist Herdis Torsvik, glass artist Ingrid Nord and others. S12 is organized as an open access studio – anyone can rent space for however long he or she needs. Here it is also possible to organize courses and hold exhibitions, and there are opportunities for hosting artists in residence.
‘Ideally, we would like to create a milieu promoting artistic collaboration in a way that cuts across various fields of expertise and international boundaries’, says Thorsteinsdóttir. A key aim, she adds, is to help nurture a general understanding of what glass art has to offer.
For S12’s founders, it has been important to create a place for exploration and experimentation. Yet this requires considerable human and technical resources – investments in equipment for glassblowing, casting and slumping on a large scale, not to mention moulds and facilities for surface treatment of both glass and ceramics. S12 is thus the result of extraordinary personal initiative and the will to take risks. It has also received generous support from the Norwegian state, Bergen Municipality and several private investors.
‘This way, we all gain greater freedom to experiment with artistic expression. It’s important for S12 to show that glass is more than colourful, functional drinking glasses,’ Thorsteinsdóttir says, explaining that many associate Norwegian glass with form and function. This association is largely due to Scandinavia being considered as a whole, and for many years, Sweden and Denmark have marketed user-friendly glass design to an international market.
‘The trend also exists to a great extent in Norway,’ she admits, ‘but we want to emphasize that glass artists also work conceptually with the material.’
Æsa Björk Thorsteinsdóttir – The Human Condition
In her artistic practice, Æsa Björk Thorsteinsdóttir focuses on the human body and the human condition. She uses the ambiguous qualities of glass – it is strong, yet fragile – to express an analogous dualism of strength and vulnerability in human existence.
‘I usually start an artistic process with an idea, then select the material, which is usually glass, and augment it with other materials and techniques, for instance steel, cement or video installation,’ she explains.
For the work First Impression from the Measuring Device for Negative Space, she has used a self-made apparatus to draw cross-sections of her own body. These are transferred to glass rings, which are then hung from ceiling wires. When seen together, they resemble a human form.
‘This glass body becomes so fragile and tenuous, the shadows cast by the glass plates become its most dominant element,’ says the artist.
Ingrid Nord – Everyday Situations
Ingrid Nord is another glass artist affiliated with S12, and like Thorsteinsdóttir, studied at Edinburgh College of Art. Her works can easily be categorized in two main groups; one group has striking graphic patterns and the second group consists of three-dimensional objects.
For the latter category, Nord’s starting point is usually everyday situations from her own life; she draws inspiration from objects that either evoke memories of the past or draw connections to contemporary experiences. She uses these as ideational material for creating new stories and contexts, such that the objects she makes also can evoke conditions other people find relevant. In terms of technique, she first models the objects in wax and then creates a plaster mold into which she blows glass.
‘I try to use the inherent qualities of glass to emphasize the object’s character. For example, a sense of vulnerability can be redoubled through the fragility of glass. For objects having to do with memories, I try to use the glass in a way that enables it to suggest a fleeting temporality, a kind of unreality or distance. This is characteristic for most memories,’ says Nord.
In the works with graphic images, Nord creates functional objects, oftentimes vases or bowls, to which she adds urban motifs: large buildings, airports, street art and pictures of objects related to modern life.
Dynamo – A Professional Community
‘Dynamo’ is the name of another collaborative venture emerging on the horizon of Norway’s glass art scene. Begun in 2008, four of its members are Norwegian and two are Swedish. Dynamo’s members have not set up a joint workshop, but have instead established a creative forum for exchanging ideas and for stimulating one another’s artistic development. They rent space at various glass furnaces around the world and arrange internal workshops. In addition, they collaborate on organizing exhibitions and attend international art events.
Dynamo’s primus motor is Kjersti Johannessen. She returned to Norway after finishing her education at Glasskolan in Kosta in Sweden and Glas & Keramikkskolen on Bornholm in Denmark, but soon felt the lack of a professional milieu or anyone to ‘play ball with’. Her reason for choosing a professional career in glass was not happenstance; the collaboration that typifies glass art was actually one of the main reasons why she wanted to learn it.
‘When I first visited a glass furnace, I was immediately fascinated by the technical collaboration I witnessed; it was efficient, intense and wordless.
Kjersti Johannessen – technique and aesthetics
Not surprisingly, Kjersti Johannessen also has a technical, concrete approach to artistic practice. Craftsmanship and aesthetics are her focal concerns.
‘Ideas and intensions obviously underlie what I do, but I don’t work with conceptual research problems like many other young glass artists, nor is there any academic thesis undergirding my works’, she says.
Johannessen is interested in three-dimensional form and is inspired by abstract sculpture.
‘I am quite bound by my own strictness and I pay much attention to formal qualities,’ she relates. ‘And because three-dimensional form is so complex, I make many sketches on paper and in clay before moving to the glassblowing stage.
When starting the final stage of work at the glass furnace (rented by the hour), she first blows a balloon-like shape. This is then cut and polished. Most of Johannessen’s works involve a technique called ‘Swedish overlay’. Sever layers of differently coloured glass are ‘welded’ together to create an interplay of colours in the cut edges.
‘It’s a relatively demanding technique and requires smoothly cooperation with my assistants,’Johannessen tells Norwegiancrafts.
Lene Lunde – Fusions
Lene Lunde is also a member of Dynamo and works with both glass and ceramics. She lives and works in Australia and did her Bachelor and Master’s Degree at Canberra School of Art, Australian National Universtey. Having a versatile approach to glass, she relates that her works take on completely different expressions when she does a solo exhibition as opposed to exhibiting with a group.
‘The common denominator for my glass works is the play of light,’ say says, ‘and in my ceramics it is more a matter of expressing pure form.’
With no glass furnace of her own, Lunde rents space whenever she is working towards an exhibition.
‘I work for short, concentrated periods at the glass furnace, then take my production to my own workshop where I do surface treatment. This stage is important in order to bring out lustre, and I use much more time on it than on the glassblowing stage.’
Lund’s work Exit was created for the Dynamo exhibition entitledCary On, held in Berlin in 2010. Here the participants worked with the theme of ‘travel and baggage’, concepts chosen on account of one Dynamo member’s attitudes about being in motion, both mentally and physically.
In her solo projects, Lene Lunde has recently worked with fusing together diverse pieces. Practically speaking, this entails creating glass objects with different colours and surfaces.
Metaphorically speaking, however, she is juxtaposing different worldviews. In the series Grandpa and Me (Morfarog meg), she uses motifs from her grandfather’s sketchbook and combines them with her own formal preferences.
Ultimately, the series is about fusing together traditions and expressions from different generations.
Benjamin Slotterøy – nature and the environment
Benjamin Slotterøy has chosen to throw his lot in with artists who do not work with glass, yet who all work conceptually with craft-based art. The collaborative group calls itself S-U-B and its central site is in Stockholm, also Slotterøy’s current base.
Slotterøy studied at Glasskolan Kosta in Sweden, Edinburgh College of Art and Design in Scotland, and at Konstfack in Stockholm. He is Norwegian, however, and grew up in the island region of Lurøy in Northern Norway.
‘My art is strongly influenced by my home region – especially its magnificent nature, but also by memories from my childhood and youth,’ says the artist.
Sloterøy’s interests in nature and environmental protection stem from his background, and one can find clear traces of it in his works.Pure Arctic – Snow on Tube takes up the theme of water and the transport of water.
‘I wanted to make an ironic comment on how willing we are to transport water across great distances. This makes a big impact on the environment, and it seems that we will keep on doing it as long as the products are exotic enough,’ he reflects.
In the work Oil on Tube, he aim is to highlight oil drilling and the fact that Norwegian oil fields are almost dry.
‘I want to ask about what we will do with the last drops. For example, will we sell them as souvenirs?’
The ‘oil’ and ‘snow’ in these works are produced through a process Slotterøy invented himself. He pours a flowing mass of glass into cold water such that it crackles into fine powder. He then puts this in an oven to keep it warm while he blows a glass tube. When finished, the tube is filled with the warm powder. Keeping the tube and its contents warm, he finishes shaping the intended form.