Elements: Glass

1 July to 6 August 2011

Helen Aitken-Kuhnen, Clare Belfrage, Judi Elliott, Klaus Moje, Kirstie Rea, Itzell Tazzyman, Blanche Tilden and Richard Whiteley

Kirstie ReaWood shed – Reserves for a Grey Day, 2011, glass, steel. Photographer: Creative Image Photography

Elements: glass by Patsy Hely

This exhibition, the second in Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre's 40th anniversary Elements series, brings together a selection of artists working in glass. And such a solid group it is: Kirstie Rea, Richard Whiteley, Clare Belfrage, Judi Elliott, Itzell Tazzyman, Blanche Tilden, Klaus Moje and Helen Aitken-Kuhnen; a roll call of well-regarded Australian glass practitioners. As befits the celebratory nature of the exhibition, each has a connection to the Centre either through professional membership, past-presidency, or involvement in the organisation's mentorship schemes. Australia's glass community is a strong one and the nation's craft and design organisations form part of the matrix through which they cohere. This exhibition both celebrates the very real achievement of 40 years of service by Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre and makes manifest the ties it has with one element of its broad constituency, the field of glass.

Canberra is something of a glass stronghold, all of the artists have shown here before and so there is a great sense of familiarity about the exhibition - it's a family show of sorts and one where the familial link, the DNA if you like, can be seen in the finely tuned making facility of each of its members. This lends to the work overall a great sense of solidity and strength and yet so embedded in the psyche are connections between glass and fragility, between 'whole' and 'in pieces', that encountering these works requires a recalibration of sorts.

Blanche Tilden's necklaces, with their massed, assembled and very finely worked components might possibly be the only work where ideas of fragility are suggested. But such is the structural integrity that Tilden creates with her linking and threading and clasping, that ideas of fragility have little hold. These works, quietly hanging on their backing boards, are perfect - not a thing out of place - the sharp transparency of the clear borosilicate glass hiding no flaw, each step in the construction process laid bare. The naming of one work, Paxton's necklace is apt, because as was the case with this famed builder of glass structures, there is a variety of accomplishment at work here.

Similarly composed of small components is the iconic work of Klaus Moje. Here though, small pieces of glass resulting from techniques of fusing and cutting are rearranged to form Moje's signature kaleidoscopic patterns. The final forms that emerge from the myriad construction and finishing processes, like Tilden's, bear the marks of precise composition - and absolute control over material and process.

Helen Aitken-Kuhnen's cast glass and metal works, two necklaces and a small collection of sculptural forms, are also expertly constructed and her experience of working in both materials has produced a seamless combination of the two. In My Mothers Pearls the cast glass components, densely coloured, intense yet muted, present a nice play on precious stones. Coloured like sapphire or ruby, these are likewise opulent but with a very pared-back flamboyance. In marked contrast to Aitken-Kuhnen's use of colour is the work of Judy Elliot. Each titled Fortress, and numbered 1 - 3, these wall-mounted panels of predominately opaque glass use brilliant colour in striking juxtapositions. Set out from the wall and with colour-tinged shadows reflecting back onto the wall, to me a strength of these works is to be found in the fluidity of pattern where, in the construction process, colour and material meet.

Where Elliott's flat panels suggest known things in the world, a building, a field, a map, Richard Whiteley's works, in perfect contrast, seem three dimensional representations of something completely unrecognisable. His cast forms, Double Void and Re Fold, began life as drawings of an imagined void emerging in three dimensional form after a long process of modeling, casting, cutting and smoothing. Unlike the cast voids of the British artist Rachael Whiteread, where once the thing cast from is known, the nature of the space is clear - the underneath of a chair, the inside of a room - Whiteley's void-forms are ambiguous. They are 'ideas for spaces' perhaps: architectonic, industrial - and somehow familiar - but also abstract, mirroring no known thing.

Kirstie Rea, in the work Wood shed - Reserves for a Grey Day, explores ways of representing her experience of being in the world, what is loved, what sustains; for Rea this is the natural world. Here, in her stacked and tightly held brilliant blue hollow cylindrical forms, she works though ideas about order and chaos, the permanent and the transient. As they have been in her work over the last number of years, colour and form are used here as representational devices.


Intense blue, in this work, represents the vastness of the sky, and the stack - in reference to the cold climate life she has led - the woodpile, with its connotations of home. But there is tension here; each perfectly formed cylinder abuts the next, placed for integrity of the grouping as a whole, careful, measured, yet despite the strap-like metal form holding all in place, threatening to spill anyway. This sense of 'spilling' is echoed differently in Clare Belfrage's work where very delicate, thread-like lines cascade lightly over and around the expertly composed and finished vessels, contrasting markedly with the thick glassy solidity of the forms. These are assured forms and beautifully worked.

Of all of the work in this exhibition Itzell Tazzyman's is perhaps the only work where the making is anything less than perfect but it matters not and is beside the point. This is a work of very good humour; a mass of surgical scissors, their handles turned into lenses with sheet glass inserts and their blades open, are spaced over the end wall of the gallery. On each pair of scissors eyes are painted onto each glass lens, black, worried, intense, worse for wear. They present as a collection of hapless Monsieur Hulots, a laugh out loud grouping; the work is formally inventive, playful, and somehow, amusingly naughty and irreverent.

This exhibition collects together then a group of very experienced artists with well-established practices. The reciprocity here, between artist and Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre and artist, confirms the value of community. It underscores the role that public organisations can play in supporting artists, designers, craftspeople to develop and create, thus making their own unique contribution to society.

Patsy Hely, Canberra artist and academic