Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Glass: Monumental & Miniature

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Jessica Jane Julius, Absorption Screen, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist’s website.

Climbing the stairs of the Art Alliance, we move from the open spaces of the first floor galleries to the enclosed, windowless second floor. Once on the second floor landing, our gaze is drawn towards what appears to be a shimmering mirage. A pair of lights illuminate the far wall of Gallery C, and we might at first think that we are looking at some kind of projection on a screen. Appropriately entitled Absorption Screen, Jessica Jane Julius’s work pulls viewers in. Coming closer, the mirage becomes concrete and real, no virtual screen but rather myriad tiny glass reflective beads affixed to the wall. These beads are the material used for airport runways and roads, guiding planes to land safely and marking the lines within which cars must travel. Julius uses this medium in a way that gently subverts its more industrial applications, creating an abstract field of muted colors that absorb viewers’ attention as we move closer to see the minute details and step out again to grasp the whole. This installation is site specific and therefore transient: its lifespan is that of the exhibition.

Moving into Gallery D, we see Megan Biddle’s Force Field, a series of delicate glass spheres attached to a thicket of steel rods by small but strong magnets. Looking closely, we can see the glass spheres gently swaying, but miraculously they do not fall. Another series of drawings by Sharyn O’Mara hang directly across the gallery. O’Mara created these small-scale drawings while walking, their meticulously formed ink circles evoking the glass spheres in Biddle’s work.

Three monumental installations by Amber Cowan dominate Gallery E. Cowan takes pressed glass objects made in the early twentieth century and transforms them into otherwordly ensembles that distort their domestic shapes almost beyond recognition. In the center are three large glass bowls, all made from identical smokey gray pressed glass, in whose depths rich dark reds flicker with the shifting light. Looking to the far wall of the gallery, we see Cowan’s Milk Glass Installation 1, in which we can still see the original forms of the glass objects she transforms through flameworking and hot sculpting. It is as though these humble vases, pitchers and vessels are gently melting, the first part of a metamorphosis into the dense thicket of glass we see on the opposite wall in Cowan’s Gray 80. In contrast to the relative simplicity and legibility of the other works in this gallery, Gray 80 is a veritable horror vacui of glass forms that crowd the vertical space of the wall. Peering at the details, we might expect gnomes to pop out from under the stylized toadstools and thick leafy landscape of the piece.

Moving to the last gallery, Gallery F, Jessica Jane Julius’s large Static Puddle Series 01-04 draws the eye, calling attention to the liquid nature of glass. These puddles seem to hover away from the walls, giving them a lightness and transparency like that of clouds. Like the lifecycle of water as it moves through the ecosystem from liquid to vapor to clouds, Julius draws attention to the protean nature of glass. Next to them, Megan Biddle’s Convergence plays with the liquidity of glass by creating a rigidly geometric structure, two panels of clear glass with converging black lines, like a Renaissance exercise in perspective. Biddle has used a technique known as slumping to create this piece, a difficult technique in which glass is melted gently over a solid mold.

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Megan Biddle, Drift and Drag, 2015-16.

As we leave this gallery, we pass by a series of digital prints by O’Mara and cyanotypes by Biddle. While the former technique is very modern, cyanotype is an early photographic technique similar to a blueprint, often used in the context of scientific studies. The cool blues of these works harmonize together and draw attention to the shifting shapes of the natural world.

As a whole, the works on view in HUSH explore the myriad facets of glass as a medium that allows us to reflect on the world around us, on both a literal and metaphorical level. The quiet monochromatic palette and technical intricacy of these pieces draw us in, asking us to focus on what is in front of us, rather than persisting in the state of perpetual distraction that is so common in our technologically saturated world. The ensemble of work also speaks to the relationship among the artists themselves, as they manage to explore these issues together even as each artist expresses her own creative vision.

HUSH is on view until April 24, 2016. The Art Alliance is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 6 pm.

Text by Flora Ward

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