The world is celebrating an ancient and amazing material this year, as 2022 is the UN’s International Year of Glass. Of course there are lots of great exhibitions and events on and so we’re taking a closer look at the British Glass Biennale, which features over a dozen Design-Nation current and alumni members and opens in late August.
This week we talk to English glass artist Andrea Spencer who lives with her American partner Scott Benefield in the rural setting of country Antrim, Northern Ireland. Andrea and Scott both make glass art, together as Benefield Spencer, and separately under their own names.
Andrea’s practice centres on delicate organic forms, often made in lamp-worked glass, which she expertly shapes using carefully applied sources of heat. We asked her what she is showing at showing at the forthcoming Biennale.
Andrea Spencer: I’m showing two pieces at the British Glass Biennale this year. Flotsam and Jetsam is a piece viewed in the round, which is a new format for me. The piece comprises of seven individual glass elements that have been hot sculpted over a bench torch using coloured borosilicate glass. The glass pieces are either suspended from or resting on a display structure which is enclosed in a transparent acrylic case. The concept of the work is based on the idea of the wunderkammer, a collector’s display of artworks inspired by natural forms.
The second piece Beginning to End is inspired by aquatic flora and resembles a long strand of sea kelp that has been coiled and draped. Using coloured borosilicate tubes and rods, I first blew the glass to achieve a thin walled form, then further manipulated it using a bench torch, hand torch and hand tools. The glass was cut, stretched, sculpted and further slumped in a kiln to achieve a high degree of detail, which describes the contours and feeling of a discarded, washed up form.
Design-Nation: Tell us a little bit about the ideas and processes involved.
AS: My work tends to appeal to those who are drawn to the ephemeral and impossible delicacy. It is a lot about process. Often I start with collecting and laying out natural specimens then move to investigating in glass.
In my studio natural objects, manmade creations, drawings and text intertwine and layer up over time, becoming juxtaposed and forming a series of dialogues. This process of collecting and curating develops into artworks, which I display generally as temporary installations, groupings or isolated objects. By creating environments or displays I’m interested in exploring parallels found between studies of the natural world and human life.
DN: It’s the International Year of Glass – what makes this amazing material special to you? Why do you choose to work with it?
AS: For me working with glass in the flame is magical. My fascination with glass mirrors what draws me to nature. Working with the glass in the flame, the material is constantly subject to the effects of heat and gravity. Timing and intuition become my guiding forces. Flameworking is a very meditative experience and a solitary act, that allows you to become lost in the process.
I’m always striving to capture an essence of truth through the qualities inherent in the material, which is glass. Fluidity, transparency, fragility and light all work together to define the character and create the ephemeral nature of my work.
DN: What are your plans for the future? Where would you like to go, physically or metaphorically?
AS: My plans for the future are to explore more avenues of generating income streams from the studio or at least from our rural coastal location. For many years I have maintained a part-time post working outside of glass. Currently I think a lot about what it would be like to be full time in the studio and be completely self sufficient as far as income generation. However, I also have ideas and desires to create even more impossibly fragile, larger and impractical pieces, so for that maybe a residency or a major award would be helpful. I’m not sure my two aspirations can survive side by side. I guess it’s that constant juggling act that keeps my practice going!
Interview by Laura Jacometti.