Whole Lotta Light

States of Illumination, Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference held in Adelaide (Austalia) in February 2015, was themed with purpose to connect to UNESCO’s International Year of Light, giving organisers and presenters a topic full of creative and scientific wonder.

Over 250 participants came from around Australia, New Zealand, Asia, North and South America, and Europe, to Adelaide, home to a thriving community of artists working with glass and a city bursting with arts festivals.

Participants of the Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

Participants of the Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

Delegates keen to get into the mood enthusiastically subscribed to the suite of tours that were on offer on registration day. They included: an architectural tour of Adelaide’s most exciting new public building, the South Australian Hospital and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), a rare insight into industrial bottle making at Owen’s Bottle Company, optical fibre manufacture and cutting edge glass technology at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, and exciting gallery and studio visits.

Over ten exhibitions were on show around Adelaide including: Illuminations, the Conference exhibition with sixty-five participants at Worth Gallery, Glass: Art, Design and Architecture and Vitrine at JamFactory, and, Transluscent Shadows at SASA Gallery, UniSA, in the conference precinct.

The opening party held at the majestic Gate 8, an artists’ workshop in a lovely old building, once a church, set the tone for the next three days; space for big ideas and appreciation for the intricate and detailed, collaboration and friendship, fun and wonder, and, the heat of Adelaide’s summer.

Heat and light, science and art, energy and creativity were all experienced from individuals and teams in the dynamic series of demonstrations and technical talks. Heike Brachlow and Jeremy Lepisto gave riveting and detailed presentations on casting and kiln formed glass. Braving the soaring temperatures in the hot shop giving glass blowing demonstrations were: Tobias Mohl, Nick Wirdnam, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello with gaffer Tom Rowney and team, the crew from Berlin Glass, and Giles Bettison.  Mark making and imagery were explored through engraved, cut and carved processes by Tim Edwards, Mel Douglas and Holly Grace. Flameworking was demonstrated by Jess Dare.

SITE (Suppliers, Institutions, Tradeshow, Education) – a new take on the traditional tradeshow – gave delegates a chance to browse, chat and pick up the most current information about products and programs relevant to the industry. Relaxed social spaces complete with astro turf in and around the key venues, helped facilitate the all-important connecting with colleagues, a crucial part of any conference.

Keynote address by Philip Adams. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

Keynote address by Philip Adams. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

The speaking program began with Uncle Lewis O’Brien, Kaurna Elder warmly welcoming the conference delegates to Kaurna Country. He reminded the audience of the traditions and practice of the traditional owners of the land; that they and neighbouring peoples were great educators, musicians, astronomers and creatives, and that this has long been a place for meeting and exchanging knowledge and ideas. He was followed by another Australian elder; broadcaster and social commentator, Philip Adams, to deliver the keynote address.

As presenter of Late Night Live on Radio National, Philip Adams has had a radio presence in many artists’ studios.  He has interviewed over 15,000 of the world’s most prominent politicians, philosophers, economists, scientists, theologians, historians, archaeologists, novelists and scholars. While listening to these interviews, artists have cut, ground, sanded, filed, engraved various materials while being inspired, educated and shocked. It was with great anticipation the keynote address began with Philip Adams giving his broad perspective of glass in our world in his inimitable style of story-telling, full of personal anecdotes.

Each of the three days had a theme that radiated out of States of Illumination.

Day one – Light as Material – comprised presentations from scientists and artists with a focus on ways of working with light. The day began with an insightful and entertaining panel from Bullseye Glass Company, USA, discussing the challenges and technological developments driven by artists’ creativity rather than market demand.  Science and art again came together with Professor Ian Gibbons and Catherine Truman discussing collaborations in The Microscope Project.

The exacting world of photonics enthralled the audience as Associate Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem presented her work with glass and light. She created a range of forms and structures in glass that transported and held light with breathtaking beauty and at such a tiny scale they were only visible through microscopy.

Four Australian artists, Jonathon Jones, Cinnamon Lee and Illumini duo, Mandi King and Karen Cunningham, discussed their respective use of light as a material and as a metaphor within their art and design work. The cultural concept of ‘light as a point’ was explored by Jonathon Jones, giving the audience insight into the connection between “light” and “pointedness” in Wiradjiri language and cultural concepts.

Glass demostrations. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

Glass demostrations. Credits: Ausglass’ 17th Biennial Conference.

The final talk of the day was presented by Danish artist, Tobias Mohl. His blown glass vessels embodied light and weightlessness with a minimal use of colour and exquisite detail combining Danish sensibility with Venetian technical virtuosity.

On the second day – Illumination of Culture through Glass – the use of glass in new places and new ways was explored.  Preston Singletary spoke of the creative and spiritual influence of his heritage, the Tlingit culture of the Pacific North West of the United States, on his blown, carved and assembled artwork. Glass is increasingly visible as a material in Indigenous Australian art practice. The panel of Yhonnie Scarce, Preston Singletary, Jonathon Jones with moderator Kelli Cole discussed cultural collaborations and connection with urban and remote indigenous communities through art projects. They shared their experiences, successes and challenges, and the cultural protocols to understand and observe.

Continuing a rich cultural day, Dr Guan Donghai, Dr Sunny Wang , Professor Li Wen and Professor Zhuang Xiaowe gave an overview of the past, present and future of contemporary glass in China. This panoramic view encompassed snapshots of glass in tertiary education, the vast architectural scale of projects possible through collaboration with industry and the interest in and development of new cultural centres.

Six students from around Australia capped off the day with snappy presentations of their respective studies and research. Prina Shah, Darcy Smith, Pamela Skurulis, Hannah Gason, Sarah Michelle Humphrey and Naomi Hunter gave the audience an engaging insight into the next generation of artists working with glass.

Day three – The Day of Enlightenment: Illuminating Ideas – explored idea generation and art making from individual artists and the role of art in society, architecture and public spaces. Nick Mitzevich, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, and self proclaimed “story teller”, gave a riveting talk, Re-Imaging the Collection, describing how AGSA is challenging the audience through new curatorial presentations of the collection, inviting us to awaken our collective humanity through the experience of art.

Brian Corr, Deb Jones and Jessica Loughlin’s artists’ talks drew the audience into the personal and intimate space of the creation and development of ideas through the practice of art making, with humour, sensitivity and expressions of the individual spirit.

Collaboration was a key theme of the final presentation of the conference. Anoop Menon, Senior Associate from Woods Bagot, described the design development process of Adelaide’s most exciting new public building, the South Australian Hospital and Medical Research Institute. Incorporating innovative environmental considerations, it is a building designed and made for people, to work together, share research ideas and outcomes, and to break down the traditional silos of medical research. A key goal was for it to be “a building of the world.” Menon played a short video to finish his presentation. The images were an uplifting finale to the States of Illumination program. They showed a breathtakingly beautiful use of glass and light, science and art, spirit and intellect, embodying culture, community and collaboration.

The four day conference program was considered a great success. Each presentation, demonstration, tour and exhibition generated further conversation. New relationships were formed and new projects were born through connections made. Challenged and invigorated we ended the conference deeply affirmed of the value of art and creative endeavour in our world.

belfrageClare Belfrage has been inspired by experiences in the natural world for many years now and has forged an international reputation for her distinguished work with detailed and complex glass drawing on blown glass forms. She has maintained a vibrant practice for over twenty-five years. She has been an active part of artists’ communities particularly in Adelaide and Canberra, including the glass based studio blue pony, of which she is a founding member, the JamFactory Glass Studio in Adelaide and, Canberra Glassworks where she played the pivotal role of Creative Director from 2009 to 2013.

Clare has had a long involvement in education and has lectured in the glass programs at Curtin University, WA, University of South Australia, SA, and Ohio State University, USA. She has also taught numerous workshops throughout Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US at Pilchuck International Glass School. In addition to Australia, Clare regularly exhibits in North America, Europe, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Her work has been recognized for its innovation and originality and in 2005 and, 2011, she was awarded the Tom Malone Glass Prize by the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

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