Back in 2011 I started my BA degree in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). At that point it was a 4 year course comprising the 1st year as a core year developing studio practice and 3 years in a chosen discipline. During the 1st year we were all given the opportunity to try two different specialisms for a week each. I chose sculpture and glass. I was already 3D inclined at this stage and enjoyed the multi-media approach in sculpture but as soon as I stepped foot in the hotshop under Dr. Caroline Madden and Isabelle Peyrat’s teaching I fell in love with the physically demanding, time sensitive process and a material that demands your utmost respect.
I continued to explore different glass making processes during the course, beginning to see myself as more of a glass blower. I spent some time as the student representative on the board of the Glass Society of Ireland where I got a glimpse of just how dynamic and supportive our glass community was. I had a semester abroad studying in Southern Illinois University under Jiyong Lee in 2014. During this time I was awarded a scholarship to attend a flameworking class under Dafne Kaffeman in the Corning Museum of Glass- at this point my love of lampworking was ignited. I returned to NCAD to complete my final year but due to unforeseen circumstances the glass furnace was no longer usable. Encouraged by Caroline I redirected my practice and produced a body of work using flameworking which allowed me to be awarded Emerging Glass Artist of the Year Award and GSoI Innovation in Glass Award from the RDS National Craft Awards in 2015. This body of work consisted of glass and multimedia wearable structures. It was the start of a line of questioning I further developed when I returned to my studies in 2017 after two years of working in the field in Corning Museum of Glass in New York, Olustvere Glass Studio in Estonia, and LoCo Glass in the UK.
Over the course of my masters degree in 3D Design Crafts at Plymouth College of Art I explored how digital design and manufacturing could be used with traditional glass making to allow it to become a more sustainable craft practice. With this I developed my vision to create glass that was human centred and challenged the audience’s perception of glass as a material. (See Flop Vessel and Sisyphus Neck Piece images). I graduated with a first class honours and was awarded the Principal’s Commendation.
I was fortunate to study under acclaimed international glass artist, and educator Dr. Caroline Madden during my bachelors degree. Caroline instilled in me a strong studio practice and a resilience to seek ways and means to make, even in the face of adversity.
I am constantly inspired and influenced by creatives who embrace innovation in their practice. Iris Van Herpen has been a major influence for my work as she combines digital design and manufacturing in her wearable pieces. She considers form and flow, soft and hard, digital and analogue which have an utterly mesmerising effect.
I grew up in a family and area which had a strong sense of community. I feel people are the central importance in the west of Ireland, particularly in more rural areas. A direct example of this is the customer service skills and ‘the chat’ I relied upon in my weekend job in the local public house. ‘The chat’ is most definitely a transferable skill and impacts on the way I present and sell my work at exhibitions and tradeshows, most recently in February at Collect 2020 where my work was represented by North Lands Creative, however the innate skill to communicate has been perhaps something I took for granted. My work gravitates around human centred design, around people’s relationship to material objects. My research and studio practice seeks to understand this relationship, and design upon it to create glass objects that are more sustainable. Growing up in a community centric culture taught me to understand my work from a human relationship perspective, with each other, and to the objects and materials we engage with.
For a long time glass making did not sit well with me. I love the medium and the processes but the gas and energy heavy elements of it almost discouraged use for me. I was able to address this when I started my masters degree in Plymouth College of Art. Meeting regularly with students and professors from product design and other areas of design I was able to disseminate the life cycle of what I was producing and figure out ways to intercept and make each stage more sustainable. This led into a large area of research for me in sociology and understanding the public audience’s relationship with glass as a material. I continue to develop and innovate my work to become more sustainable and look forward to meeting many more makers whose beliefs are in line with my own.
There are huge efforts being made towards sustainability within glass in Europe. With every year that passes more options become available for electric furnaces and glory holes. Europe is thinking green. They are striving towards making their practice more sustainable. I think the excuse of continuing in ancient ways because of claims to culture is being viewed more pragmatically. Whilst it is so important to ensure the survival of traditional glass making knowledge and processes, we are all under pressure to make decisions that are more environmentally conscious. I think the next ten years in Europe will show a lot about sustainability within glass.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating. It has forced a full stop on so many with no idea of when things will continue. Perhaps however, the full stop is what is needed. For those who are overworked, working in the perpetual production of glass, always fulfilling the next order, or for those who have been forced to rethink their whole making methods. We have all been forced to a stop. This has opened up opportunities to take the time to care for our minds and bodies which work so hard when actively practicing in the glass medium, to replace outdated equipment or systems of production, to finally make decisions to become more sustainable. For me it has done just that. Not only have I developed an online series called Home Glass Hacks where anyone can learn to work with glass at home, with accessible tools and equipment but also I have secured my biggest commission yet which I have designed to be made within my own home with basic equipment. This has forced me to consider how this low-tech approach inevitably becomes more sustainable because of the reduction in fossil fuel burning it allows. It has allowed me to consider and design around lower energy modes of production and instead turn to designed and engineered solutions in combination with my work. More information on what I have been working on over this time will be revealed soon.
In April 2020 during the early stage of the COVID-19 lockdown I had just started employment at University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Farnham, UK as the Glass Technical Tutor. The staff and students at UCA began to reform learning methodologies. During this period I formed a series of online video tutorials showing Home Glass Hacks. The hacks allowed students to continue to develop their material knowledge by using accessible tools from around the house. This was the inspiration for the Words of Isolation | Words of Connection project.
Words of Isolation | Words of Connection is an international collaborative project that calls on members of the public to get involved in communicating their experience of the COVID-19 isolation through making glass words by bending glass stringers using a tealight candle flame.
Submissions to the project have been made by scientists, engineers, butchers, artists, entrepreneurs, photographers, teachers and students to list a few. Words of Isolation | Words of Connection crosses boundaries, language, race, sex, gender, age, religion, background and culture. Through the creative catharsis of craft, It provides a physical representation of the feelings and words we have been sharing during this unified period in the COVID-19 crisis. The project has allowed the public to develop their relationship with glass, a material many of which have never worked with before. It has opened up conversation and further appreciation of our craft.
This project has given me and many other makers the opportunity to create work in a far more accessible and sustainable way due to the low-fi making method and lower energy consumption needed to form the glass, compared to traditional gas furnaces and torches. The project resonates with greater global objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN in climate action, responsible consumption and production, and reduced inequality.
The first iteration of the project has been installed as part of the Design and Craft Council of Ireland outdoor exhibition trail Connected which is running throughout Kilkenny city from 30 July- 20 October. It has been invited to be exhibited in the 2022 International Glass Art Society conference in Tacoma, USA.
The project has paralleled our experience of the period of isolation. Each work is made in isolation, but when we are all allowed to be back together again so too can the glass words, it is a reflection, and a celebration of community and resilience in one of the most challenging years we will have experienced. The European Glass Context would be a poignant home coming for the Words of Isolation | Words of Connection.
Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity to create work through ISGNE AiR. When I was approached by Karen Phillips and Joanna Garrett from North Lands Create about the residency, and being represented at Collect 2020 I was truly blown away. It has given me a huge boost in confidence about my work and what I am hoping to achieve with it. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic I have been unable to travel to North Lands Creative to undertake my residency yet, however merely weeks before lock down began I had the please to show at Collect 2020 with them as part of the residency series. This has helped my career a tremendous amount allowing me to display and communicate what I do at such a high profile event. The show itself was very successful for me after selling 4 pieces.
I am thoroughly looking forward to completing my residency with North Lands Creative once it is safe to travel and do so. I would definitely recommend applying for an ISGNE AiR to all emerging European artists not only for the chance to develop work but also to develop a large and versatile glass support network for your practice in Europe.
My original plans for the residency involved a public, social glass artwork installation, where members of the public would be invited to make a glass component that would form a larger structure. Since submitting this proposal this artwork has taken life in an unexpected way through the Words of Isolation | Words of Connection international, collaborative glass artwork which allows any member of the public to make a glass word reflective of their time in isolation using a glass stringer and a tea light candle. For the residency I would like to expand on this and see how I can benefit from NLC rooted relationship in their community by inviting the residents of Lybster to take part in the project. This may culminate in a final exhibition and local celebration of all we have overcome at this time and how creativity has been such a powerful mode of connection and expression.
I plan to develop more of my modular blown glass work to create kinetic lighting sculptures.
Currently I work with waterjet cutting, laser cutting and engraving, 3D printing amongst other digital manufacturing techniques in line with my glass practice, however I use these processes with other materials such as rubber. I would love to now explore waterjet cutting for modular glass components of my work. During lock down I had the pleasure of talking to Daniel Lizardo and Michael Stern who founded the first optically clear glass 3D printer, if ever given the opportunity I would love to travel to Boston, US to visit their studio and see the process first hand.
Every year the Contemporary Glass Society show a range of newly graduating glass artists across the UK and Ireland. This is a snapshot, but a great temperature check of what is currently coming from our institutions into the working community. Contemporary glass in the UK is diverse and exciting. The community seems to welcome those who use glass to support their artistic endeavours, and those who strive to master the craft. What is wonderful about glass in the U.K. and Ireland is the lack of snobbery, everyone is welcome, from students to professionals to hobbyists. The sharing of knowledge is welcomed and supported. The Wednesday online meet ups by CGS is testimony to this.
Where to start-there are so many wonderful european artists, studios and places. Richard Whitely and other artists who work out of Neon Workshops in Wakefield, Yorkshire are making some really poignant work. Before a year or two ago the world of neon was foreign to me, but being interested in lighting and how light can be used to influence the audience I eventually took a visit to the workshops to do some neon.
Romanian ceramicist, now based in Barcelona, Raluca Buzura creates the most beautifully intricate wearable forms. The way Buzura embraces the qualities of her material and brings it to the contemporary jewellery scene is refreshing and very successful. She is conscious of her surrounding environment and human’s effects on it, and confronts this in her work. She is vocal about changing the public’s view about being just body adornment, but instead it can also be an artwork. She works with the possibilities and limitations of porcelain as a material and talks about how the fragility of it allows the work to be cherished.
I couldn’t answer this interview without mentioning one of my own, award winning and fellow Irish glass artist living and creating in Ireland Alison Lowry. Alison undertakes subject areas that are incredibly raw in memorable Irish history such as the mother and baby homes which only finally closed down in the 90s. Alison undertakes this subject with such sensitivity. She works with truly harrowing narratives in her work yet presents them in a way that is subtle and reabible for the public audience, and allows them to begin to understand this history which was kept secret for so long. Alison employs glass as a main material in her practice yet defies traditional views of glass making presenting both fired and unfired pâte de verre garments symbolic of the themes she undertakes in her work.
From the beginning of my glass career I have been encouraged and supported to work and interact within the broader European and international glass community. It is hugely important to my work. I believe in order to survive we must travel, learn and grow our practice in a dynamic way, learn and teach others and support our community, both on a local and international level. One of my earlier experiences of this eas from my Erasmus internship in Olustvere Glass Studio where I learned not only more glass making skills but their culture and some of the language. The connections I made here are still strong. As a result of this international internship I secured my first full time glass blowing job.
Currently, from my discussions with artists and studios across Europe, people are worried. Especially those who have taken the risk of opening their own studio or becoming self employed with their own business. However we are probably some of the best equipped people to rise to the challenge of adversity. What we do constantly presents challenges due to the expensive and specialist nature of it. We have learned to overcome and thrive in so many situations including recessions. I believe we are a people absolutely rooted in the international community. During this time, like always we have supported each other with help, advice, access to equipment and workshops as well as being a “hive mind” of information as it is so often put on glass facebook pages and forums etc. We will adapt to survive, we always do
If imposed travel restrictions between countries continue to be in effect after this crisis, I believe it will have a hugely adverse effect. Glass learning and teaching, as well as exhibiting relies on free movement. However with a challenge is a chance to grow. We saw the 2020 Glass Art Society Conference go online, a hugely commendable effort by the board. What this has thought us is that we can video call someone, even our glass hero on the other side of the world to learn from them at the click of a button. People are connecting more in this way, but it is of course essentially that someday we can all come together again, learn together again and celebrate surviving the most unprecedented year.
Laura Quinn is and Irish Glass Blower and Designer, she makes beautiful glass objects by hand, with the assistance of new digital technologies to create products which are repairable, recyclable and more sustainable.