21st December 2016
by Josie Mills
Breathless was an interactive exhibition organised by Czech Centre London based on the award-winning Dechem Studio’s passion for glassmaking, in partnership with OKOLO. Exhibiting for London Design Festival 2016, in the Brompton Design District, Breathless brought together the history of glass making with a live glass blowing exhibit in the beautiful space of the Garage at 1 North Terrace. I was particularly impressed with the traditional glass-blowing techniques used by makers in the live glass-blowing exhibit, for a truly eye-opening history of glass.
Beginning with a guided tour of the glass collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum by Adam Štěch, curator of the Breathless exhibition, we were given a comprehensive look at the origins of glass-making to modern day glass-making.
Štěch began the tour with a talk on how glass was first used. This gave us a good insight into the history of glass-making and production. Initially used mainly for architecture, particularly for churches, glass was used to create pieces of art in the form of stained glass windows. Stained glass windows were of paramount importance in the early centuries as it was a common way of allowing illiterate people to comprehend the world around them. Shown at the V&A was the architecture of the palace at Westminster to highlight the importance of glass in our early history.
As the exhibit was conducted by the Czech Centre London there was a heavy focus on the Czechoslovakian influences on glass. In particular, the hidden history of glass production in the 1950s. We were told the history of how 1950s communism in Czechoslovakia defined how art should be and how it should look, thereby limiting creativity. Abstract art was off limits because it was a western capitalist concept so artists had these major restrictions placed on them. As a result artists switched disciplines, with particular focus on glass. Ceramics and glass were not so restricted so they could experiment. Glass became an art form as shown by Czech artist Stanislas Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova’s work below.
Since then glass has transformed and is considered an art form in its own right. As renowned Czech artist Toots Zynsky said ‘It’s really like painting. It’s an identical thought process – the way you build up a painting or drawing’.
From the V&A we were taken to a revolving mobile glass furnace, brought specially from the Czech Republic. Professional glass-makers Marek Bartko and Marek Effmert ran workshops for the public, in collaboration with renowned designers, to show live glass-blowing. Traditional techniques of glass-blowing were used to create glass pieces before our eyes. Surrounding the live glass-blowing exhibit were modern day glassware, from drinking glasses to vases to show how glass has shaped our daily lives.