In the year of my internship in Berlin Glas, which is the last year, I was studying my final year of my MFA in the Academy of Architecture Arts and Design in Prague at the glass studio with Rony Plesl. During that time, my focus was on my diploma project called ‘Sedlec’, a high relief glass sculpture that is a memento mori, and my diploma thesis named ‘Memorialization of Death Through the Bone Decorations of Sedlec Ossuary’, where I talk about the connection of our perception of death in modern times in Europe and the macabre aesthetics.
Right before my graduation from AAAD, I got enrolled to the Erasmus Plus project, which offers new graduates a chance to have a traineeship in European countries. I asked Nadania Idriss, the executive manager of Berlin Glas, if I could be there for few months as an Erasmus intern. She kindly invited me to the studio from October to December, which was also the dates of the ISGNE project. So, I had the opportunity to be involved in the project as a TA.
I have taken part in few international projects over the last ten years. The most similar one to ISGNE I have been involved in was the Artist in Residence programme in Glass Furnace in Istanbul. As in the ISGNE, Glass Furnace offered the artists all its facility, glass material and
accommodation for a month. It was a great experience to be able to watch international glass artists with different skills working with their technique of expertise. The difference of ISGNE majorly comes from its mobility. Traveling different countries and visiting different studios as a part of one project is an amazing opportunity as well as meeting people from different cultures with different backgrounds that you share a common ground with.
It all started with a visit to Glass Furnace. I was fascinated by the place, the studios, the glowing hot glass and the lovely staff. So I joined a glassblowing workshop of Stephen Dee Edwards’ in 2010. Then, one workshop followed the other. I wanted to improve my glass skills more, however at the time in my university, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, there wasn’t a proper glass studio; let alone a hot shop. Luckily, I opened up about my desire to continue with glass making professionally to Gülfidan Özmen, who was a lecturer in my department and a glass artist. She helped me to be involved in the student group which would soon go to Novy Bor Glass School in Czech Republic for glass training for six months. This is how my focus in ceramics in the first years of my bachelors in the Department of Ceramics and Glass Design shifted to glass.
Even though I began my journey in glass with glass blowing, over time I have settled on kiln casting, which was more realistic for me to improve and keep on at the time. This has led me to work on more elaborate and complex forms where I can use my clay modelling skills I gained during my bachelors.
I start each project making drawings. It is an important initial stage where I think, design and go through the whole process virtually. Next comes the clay or wax modelling. These materials set me free to build any form I imagine with their plasticity. In this stage, not only do I try to reach the exact design I did on the paper, but also let myself be guided by the materials and the soul of the time. Before making an investment for casting, I usually make a silicone mould to make it sure that I can have a backup model in case of things go wrong. After casting, cold working and sandblasting are major steps to finish the making process.
As I mostly create detailed structures and intricate forms, I have so far abstained from using bold or multiple colours in a piece. Clear and black glass are always my go-to colours, however in the near future I want to widen my repertoire in this regards.
Yes, there is a new project I have recently started to work on. I am currently trying to figure out the ways to create symmetrical organic compositions out of randomly shaped individual parts. It is a project evolved gradually during the quarantine in April through June, when I first noticed, with the rest of the world, how fragile our plans and the systems we have built for a better living are. We have witnessed the things in order suddenly shift into chaos. This as a very humbling period of time shows how vulnerable we are as humans in nature. So, I make chaotic forms by letting wax flow by itself and take a shape without me touching, and then try to find the most similar ones among many to build a symmetry, which refers to the human effort to make an order.
I lived in Berlin for few months during my traineeship. After my traineeship ended, I went back to Turkey to apply for the visa to freelance in Berlin; but then the pandemic broke out and I had to stay there. So, I spent fairly a short time in Berlin. However, I lived and studied in Prague for more than three years. As they are neighbouring countries, Czech Republic and Germany share similar cultural characteristics. Prague and Berlin being capitals, they are both dynamic and multicultural cities that carry the memories of the past. I believe these attributes are the major factors in a city which can nourish the creative mind the most. In this regard these two cities have led me to search the harmonious contrast of blending diversities. That usually shows up in my works prominently.
Furthermore, in both cities I was able to find a good balance between the fast-paced urban life and my productivity thanks to the enough green spaces conserved.
The beginning of the quarantine was tough, as you might imagine. The hardest part was not to be able to foresee how the future would unfold. I have had to postpone my plans of moving to Berlin for a little while. The restrictions in Istanbul have eased up since the quarantine, but do not seem to be lifted soon as the numbers of covid-19 cases have been increasing. Thus, I have been doing activities that don’t require a teamwork and a large space; also that can be done in a home environment. I have been making pencil drawings and clay and wax modelling. Searching new forms and creating new projects for the near future have been my biggest occupation lately.
Unfortunately I was away from Berlin during quarantine. As far as I have seen the galleries and the artists around the world supported artists by making online exhibitions and promoting artists’ works in a similar fashion.
This is such an impossible question for me to answer accurately. Not only because it is so difficult to choose among so many European artists who I am fascinated by, but also it is ever-changing by my mood, time and place. Nevertheless, there is few names whose works I keep going back very often to see and learn from. Blaschkas and Libensky & Brychtova come first in this sense as glass artists.
For me what makes a good studio great is the attitude of the staff when something goes wrong and the resilience to deal with it so long as the basic needs met in means of space and facility. I was lucky to begin practicing with glass in Glass Furnace in Istanbul, where I felt very welcomed and learnt so much. Glass Furnace has such a remarkable role to introduce glass art to Turkish audience and support the glass artists in Turkey. Last year, I had a similar experience as in Glass Furnace in Bildwerk Frauenau, too. It was such a nice place with several studios in nature where you can easily focus on your project with the assistance of a lovely staff. Lastly, Berlin Glas is easily among my favourites with their great energy, exciting projects and open character.
Although I had a chance to pay only a short visit in 2011, Lhotsky Studio is an amazing place for glass casting and they produce some amazing works.
The fact that glass making usually requires a great team work and collaboration, it naturally gathers people together both locally and internationally. I am very happy that from the moment I first began to work with glass, I have been able to come together with European organisations and the artists from all over the world. So, from the beginning, connecting with people who share a common ground and the multicultural characters of the glass studios I visited, have been one of my greatest motivations that kept me going.
All international art events, exhibitions, workshops and collaborations I have been part of have led me to be more flexible and communicative. Over time I have become more comfortable with the unfamiliarity and more curious about people as I improved my language skills. I believe we go beyond our mental boundaries by getting away our comfort zone and can reflect upon ourselves with less bias. Therefore, making work internationally has a great importance in my life.
Emel Erdem was born in 1988 in Istanbul, Turkey.
She completed her bachelor’s degree in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in the ceramic and glass design department in 2013.
As she was doing her bachelor’s, she attended few glass workshops in Glass Furnace in Istanbul and then decided to focus her career on glass design.
She went to Novy Bor Glass School in Czech Republic for six months to learn more about glass techniques.
She got accepted to the Academy of Architecture, Art and Design in Prague in 2016 and did her MFA in the glass studio with Rony Plesl.
After she graduated in 2019, she did an internship
in Berlin Glas in Germany in the casting and cold-working studios. She plans to continue her career in Berlin as a freelance artist.