Image 1: Amarit’s hand-dyed wool
Fluffy piles of hand-dyed wool rested on a display table, an iPad linked to a screen projected the virtual game, Voyager, and visual artist Ken Amarit looked on happily as visitors tested out his project at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD).
Using homegrown dyes (think beet, turmeric, blueberry and carrot, to name a few), Amarit transforms drab, matted wool into thick, springy coils. After the yarn has been prepared, Amarit molds clay into cute characters for his video game, and he then covers the characters with the wool to give them a furry texture.
Image 2: Amarit holding two of his clay video-game creatures
When his characters are all assembled and draped in fur, Amarit uses stop-animation to create the mini world in which The Voyager game takes place. He photographs each character in one position, then manipulates the clay so the figure looks slightly altered and then takes another photograph. Amarit produces a moving, interactive game by digitally linking several of these photographs together.
Image 3: The final product (courtesy of MAD)
Now that his work on The Voyager is complete, Amarit said he plans to focus his efforts on growing his own dyes instead of purchasing them from a supplier. Currently he is growing indigo and is looking forward to testing it out on the wool.
From long-necked bottles to amorphous bowls to geometric shapes, the pieces that comprise MAD’s Playing with Fire: 50 Years of Contemporary Glass exhibition are both dramatic and breathtaking.
Image 4: Rainbow-flecked glassware
I appreciated how this exhibition not only featured aesthetically inspiring works of art but also explained the process of glassblowing (via video footage of several artists at work) because I have dabbled in this art form on two separate occasions and because the technique is quite fascinating.
I first experienced glassblowing as an elementary school student when a friend’s sister hosted a birthday party at an artist’s studio. After putting on a pair of mad scientist goggles and industrial-strength gloves, I felt prepared to enter a biology lab—not ready to tackle an artistic project.
Standing next to a table covered with colorful glass fragments and sharp crystals, the artist explained how we were going to transform the scrap material into something beautiful. We were each going to make two paperweights—one “molded” paperweight and one “floral” paperweight.
The “molded” paperweight served as my introduction to the craft of glassblowing. I chose a variety of blue shards to melt in the oven, and, after the shards liquefied, I used a metal bar essentially to scoop up the molten glass (a process called gathering). I then pulled the metal bar out of the oven and, as the glass solidified (though it was still malleable), I used a sleek, square-shaped mold to form the glass into the paperweight.
Image 5: My final paperweight
I prepared the glass for the “floral” paper weight in the same way; however, the final shaping process required a different technique. Using an oversized pair of pliers, I pulled the molten glass to create flower petals. Although the process looked like stretching salt water taffy, the glass was extremely difficult to pull (especially since it was cooling quickly).
Image 6: My glass flower paperweight
After this experience I was excited to return to a different glassblowing studio a few years later. The agenda this time: making glass beads. Since beads are a fraction of the size of paperweights, the bead making set up was much smaller. The steel rods used resembled pencils, and the heating device was like an elaborate Bunsen burner.
In my mind the beads that I layered with several colors of glass were most successful, but you can be the judge.
Image 7: My glass beads
I’ll leave you with some other photographs I took during our visit to MAD. The exhibition runs through August 25, 2013.
Image 8: Glass clothing?
Image 9: Glass as mirrors
Image 10: Colorful glass tools
– Melissa Rodman