City of Glass Review

Posted 18.03.11 at 1:08pm

Elizabeth Kelly City of Glass Essay

 The title of Elizabeth Kelly’s exhibition, City of Glass is an ironic play on the proverb: “People in Glass Houses should not throw stones”; and as the Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Random House suggests, ‘To live is a glass house’ is a figure of speech referring to vulnerability. Like a city, Kelly’s title reflects this proverb in a manner which is complex and elusive. Who lives in the glass house, do we live in a glass city, who is throwing stones, what happens to the transparency of the glass house if it dwells cheek to cheek with many other glass houses, are we blinded by multiple reflections, how dirty does the glass have to become before we are no longer aware of its glassiness? How vulnerable are we?

 I believe it is up to us, all of us, to make up our minds about the world we want and to take some responsibility to make this world happen, is a quote from a paper by Eva Cox broadcast on Radio National in 2005. As Kelly listened to this program, it vibrated with her own concerns about the direction Australian society is taking. Reflecting on the nature of us and them, the rise of nationalism in Australia, the populist notion of Australia as white skinned and English speaking, Kelly is increasingly uneasy about the insidious creeping in of new laws pertaining to terrorism, sedition and people control.

 The non transparency of our Federal Government’s policies, new laws and scary patriotism, all feeds the uncomfortableness in the work that Kelly aims for. If we don’t speak about our current government policies are we more at risk as being perceived to condone these policies? Through inaction are we giving the government the mandate it needs to makes us more and more untrusting, sceptical and pessimistic? As Eva Cox asked: Can we retain social cohesion and the possibility of individual autonomy? When governments espouse unity and are divisive, espouse transparency that is dubious and smeared to say the least, we need to use other language to counteract its impact and art is a strong language in the bid to challenge government actions.

 Studio glass is a relatively young field within the world of craft, in its rapid rise the magic of its process and the exquisite qualities it possesses have made it highly collectable. Kelly is an artist who has worked with the material of glass for many years and understands that her practice is based on many disciplines. Her intimate knowledge of the material and technical skills perfected over many years of training has resulted in a refined ability to wield and manipulate glass. Kelly’s talent lies in her ability to discard certain paradigms in this field as she not only challenges her own perceptions but also reflects upon the beauty of glass which cloaks the drain on energy and finances required in production. Her specialist training and practice enable her certain freedom with the material that may seem at odds with current practice yet add weight to this dynamic field. 

 Over the years Kelly’s work has had a number of threads without locking herself into any one style. It is the design process which intrinsically links all that Kelly creates, with each new blown or cast object there is a dialogue between the initial concept and the issues that arise from the process of creating the idea, a constant to and fro between origin and execution. Designing functional products requires patience and the ability to form the same object over and over again becomes a lesson in discipline and material as much as in design. Kelly restricted herself to the one form, essentially a cube for the exhibition and Kelly’s skills in design and production become evident as the City of Glass emerged.

 By employing a repeated process Kelly enables the singular, which retains hand made individualism, to lose importance in relation to the group. Kelly has created distinct groups of buildings defined by their materials and their façades. Solid glass buildings inspire with their reflective surface or radiate gentle hope with surfaces worked to a softened muted state. Hollow buildings with painted surfaces become opaque shells that manipulate the reading of light and shade with tone and colour. The serendipity of a flawed casting alludes to corrupted structures which boldly retain power as they gazump space from other more worthy claims in this glass city. Another group of buildings consistent with Kelly’s design are made from solid pieces of timber and reflect Kelly’s investigation and question of one material over another. By deliberately including structures of solid timber of the same geometric form, Kelly provides an indicator of commonness or humanness between all the buildings in the city. This almost traditional material undermines the complexity of the glass structures, whilst simultaneously they are also the tenements of the city of glass.

This City of Glass embraces all its elements as necessary parts of any city. It displays blindness, blisters with corruption, radiates translucency, reflects hope, and embraces difference rather than promoting exclusion, as it tries to create an inclusive and level playing field for all.

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