On entering the 2015 Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show, it was striking how professionally the glass graduates’ work was showcased, both individually and as a whole collection. It was uncluttered, simplified and beautifully curated by all involved. There was a gentle flow and connection between the work, and the diverse range of techniques and creativity was highlighted throughout.
Glass was clearly a desirable material this year, as it could be seen spanning many different disciplines including Sculpture, Painting, Intermedia, Fashion and Product Design. This can only mean good news for Geoff Mann, who, at the helm of this specialist department, is keen to diversify, share and highlight the challenges of how glass as a medium is perceived and utilised.
We both felt honoured to represent the society and attend the Degree Show Business View. We were given a very insightful guided tour of the exhibition, before deliberating on who the Scottish Glass Society Award for exceptional student work should be presented to. As this year is the last year of the Glass Undergraduate programme it felt very poignant as we chose the award recipients. We both felt the standard was very high and that it was impossible to choose a single winner. Instead we gave the award jointly to two up and coming artists, Gemma Leamy and Tao Shen. Gemma is at the end of her undergrad, while Tao is completing her masters in Product Design. Both used glass in original and unconventional ways, and it is this sort of diversification that will propel glass forward into the new Material Practice course.
Gemma Leamy exhibited two bodies of work at the show, ‘Deconstruct’ and ‘Slow Coffee’. ‘Deconstruct’ consisted of highly desirable glass ‘canvases’, large scale photographs depicting extreme close ups of blown then fractured glass forms. These glass landscapes are abstracted in order to immersing the audience in their details, evoking memories and capturing atmosphere. Her colour palette is taken from landscapes that hold personal significance to Gemma. She explains the philosophy behind her work by saying “Although we can never attempt to replicate the experience of physically being in a landscape; through the use of the unique properties of glass I am able to attempt to represent a part of what we may experience when in a particular space.”
‘Slow Coffee’: Gemma’s plinth piece represents the deconstruction of the coffee making process, from bean to cup. Individual lampworked receptacles were made and mounted on a copper base to provoke each sensory stage of coffee manufacture, resulting in the final product. The piece is delicate, reflecting the sensory rituals, values and enjoyment of coffee, and is reminiscent of ancient Chinese tea ceremonies.
Tao Shen’s environmentally conscious exploration started with a desire to prevent thousands of tonnes of waste glass being sent to landfill. After a lengthy period of research and experimentation Tao pushed the technical boundaries of the material to create what can only be described as expanding foam glass. Her creation ‘Airware’ is designed to recycle various types of waste glass together into a lightweight and insulating material. Although her truly original and remarkable Degree Show work was all handmade, Tao is developing mass production methods and it is clear her discovery has immeasurable potential. Aesthetically her glassware has an appearance closer to glass than stone, and her pieces are very individual and unique. Tao has recently showcased her work at the British Glass Biennale and we can’t wait to see what she will do next. Watch this space!
Roz McKenzie & Amanda Baron