The Visual language of Stress in Glass: Revealed through Polarized Light

I am fascinated by the systems and structures we use for understanding the world around us, bringing context to the unknown and chaotic. Light and glass play a crucial role in this endeavor, from the transmission of information through fiber optics, as well as the revealing of the distant unknowns, and the microscopic world right in front of our eyes.

"Alternating Entropy" Piece. Credit: Justin Gingsberg.

“Alternating Entropy” Piece. Credit: Justin Gingsberg.

As scientists and researchers continue to study light, they further deconstruct and reconstruct our understanding of the vague concepts of space, time, and reality. The famous double slit experiment beginning in the 19th century, suggests the duality of a photon, as particle and wave, and more recently suggests our role as a conscious and conscientious factor in the ways in which the quanta behave.

Fascinated by lights role of informing our understanding of the world. I completed an artistic and academic research residency at the Corning Museum of Glass, in New York, combining science, art and technology, which focused on optics, birefringence (1), and photoelasticity (2), as a foundation for exploration. Through access to Rakow Library, working with scientists from Corning Inc. Sullivan Park Research Facility, and conducting experiments of my own, the results will be compiled into a published book, in conjunction with the development of a new and innovative body of artwork.

When glass has stress, which can be induced and/or reduced through thermal or mechanical processes, it is visually revealed through the use of light in conjunction with specifically orientated polarized lenses, often, which is referred to as a polariscope. Stress is a molecular imperfection within the structure of the material, which causes slight variations and inconsistencies affecting the index of refraction. Often this cannot be seen with the naked eye, but through the utilization of linear and circular polarizers. This invisible phenomenon is revealed as bright light patterns, distortions, and color.

"Alternating Entropy" Piece. Credit: Justin Gingsberg.

“Alternating Entropy” Piece. Credit: Justin Gingsberg.

Manufacturers have utilized this property to help strengthen products, such as through the development of tempered glasses and correll bowls, yet the artistic approach to working with glass almost always avoids this condition, focusing on specific processes to remove these ‘flaws’ which can lead to cracks, breaking, and potentially explosions. I, on the other hand, was interested in making objects, which seemed to have a life – inherently having a beginning and some theoretical end. How long until it broke? Would it break? If it broke, what would happen when it did? These remain unknown, just as the things other artists make, our society, our flesh, have unknown material and existential life spans. I prefer to dwell in this realm.

I began testing a variety of different formulas of silicate glasses, thermally shocking through rapid heating, and/or rapid cooling, and meticulously documenting the results. Hundred of samples were made, measured, and photographed. The results not only revealed that the visually patterns and colors were fairly predictable and measurable, but that inducing stress is a skill, and can be utilized.

These studies helped guide me, as I attempted to work with a phenomenon that not only was invisible during the making, but was not present. This property appears much later as the glass cools, and molecular structures settle, affecting the speed of light for specific wavelengths. Light travels nearly 40% slower through glass than a vacuum, yet this molecular reconfiguration, affects all colors of light differently.

I am sculpting an immaterial, creating objects whose obscurities are only fully revealed through the manipulation of light and time.

More information

1 –  Birefringence is the splitting of a wave of light through a transparent material, which has differences in the indices of refraction. The splitting of the wave creates two components, which have a difference in velocity (i.e. speed of light changes for each component). This phenomenon allows us to visually see stress in glass, because stress is a molecular misconfiguration, in which the index of refraction changes.

2 – Photoelasticity is the visual measurement (as opposed to mathematical) of the amount and distribution of stress within a material.


Glass Stress_ginsbergJustn Gingsberg  began working for the Art and Art History Department at the University of Texas of Arlington in 2009 while pursuing his Masters in Fine Art Degree there. He continues to be a faculty member as a Visiting Assistant Professor and Head of the Glass area, while also focusing on his own creative practices and research.

Justin shows his work nationally and internationally, including a recent solo exhibition in Berlin Germany in an abandoned warehouse connected to Berlin Glas eV. He has also had recent solo exhibitions at the PEEL Gallery in Houston TX in 2012 and Ro2 Art: Downtown Project Space in Dallas, Tx in 2013. He has been included into New Glass Review four out of the last five years, and recently the Kunstpalast Museum in Dussledorf Germany acquired one of his works for their permanent collection. This Summer, Justin will be conducting research through residencies at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York (5 weeks), Wheaton Arts in New Jersey (5 weeks), Tacoma Museum of Glass in Washington (1 week), and will be a speaker at the International Glass Conference in San Jose.

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