MUSICIANS Liam Ó Maonlaoí and Peter O’Toole of Hothouse Flowers don’t immediately spring to mind when you encounter the bulbous upturned glass pieces and their slender tubes at Solas: An exhibition of contemporary Irish Glass in the CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery in Cork.
Strange to look at, what’s even more odd is that they are musical instruments. The work of renowned glass artist Róisín de Buitléar, they were first conceived during a residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, resulting in a harmonious relationship with the Flowers duo.
“As you blow into them, a diaphragm moves, flip flopping,” explains de Buitléar. “It’s one of the wonders of glass, that it is flexible. The idea comes from Japan, where they have a toy called a ‘yop yop’, which is glass and given to little children.
“However, Liam has has also turned it into a percussive sound, using his fingers. What I’m illustrating is a musical phrase; I believe sounds have different colours, as reflected in the pieces. They will get another airing on April 1, as Liam and Peter will perform on them at my solo exhibition in Drumcondra.”
De Buitléar believes that while Ireland has a rich heritage in glass, acceptance of the use of the medium in sculpture is relatively new. Importantly, though, it is growing, with a new band of exponents and adherents: “What is happening in the world of contemporary glass in Ireland and internationally is very different. Internationally, the popularity of glass sculpture has evolved rapidly since the 1960s, with the growth of the studio glass movement. Here, there are very few people working in glass in a sculptural way, so the work of the Glass Society of Ireland and the exhibition in the Wandesford Quay Gallery is important in that it gives people a platform and a focus.
“In other countries, contemporary glass is exhibited in specialist shops and galleries. In Ireland it is predominantly seen in group exhibitions, where it sits alongside other mediums. I feel this is a better way to consider it as an artwork, as many people get tied up in the material rather than what the artist is trying to say and convey with the medium, which just happens to be glass.”
She says that while Ireland has a rich history of glass, be it stained or cut, these days most glass artists are making their living from public art.
“For example, my piece at Knock Basilica, which was recently opened, features 36m x 3m transparent painted glass in six sections. I used a new technology, which allows the transfer of painting onto glass rather than staining it,” says De Buitléar.
Demonstrating the flexibility of glass as a medium, De Buitléar, who draws much inspiration from her “cultural identity”, is now working on a commission for the Limerick Museum, transferring the patterns of local lace onto glass and paying homage to the thousands of lacemakers in the city in the 19th century, and she has also collaborated with Cork jeweller Tuula Harrington.
She also teaches internationally and is the director of Waterford the Glass City, which is building awareness of the importance of glass in the heritage and future of a city where glass has been made since 1783.
The Solas exhibition features work submitted by members of the Glass Society of Ireland, who were asked to consider the theme of light and design, last year being the United Nations International Year of Light and the Year of Irish Design. Twenty-four artists from 39 submissions were selected by jurors Audrey Whitty and Susanne Jøker Johnsen.
The exhibition features diverse techniques. Patrick Blythe says he is drawn to the purity of colour that can be attained with glass. He strives to “capture fleeting moments of beauty in a material that will last for thousands of years” and he achieves this with ‘An Fharraige Álainn’, a 45cm-tall cast and carved oblong piece that slips from deep azure to the green hues and foam of a wave.
Peadar Lamb works with traditional materials and techniques and his submission, ‘Silo’, is comprised of painted stained glass in a lead lightbox.
Another piece of note is Atrial Flutter and Palpitations, by Danish-based Aoife Soden. It features four blood-red hearts, part of her exploration of the “dysfunction of specific organs”.