Thousands of molten glass threads spinning in all directions, creating crystalline cocoons, is what you will be greeted with upon entering the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio this weekend, where world- renowned artist Toots Zynsky is working as a Visiting Artist.
Zynsky is a pioneer in the American Studio Glass movement; as part of a newly formed glass department studying glass with Dale Chihuly at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1970’s, to becoming a founding member of the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, among other incredible contributions to this rich discipline.
Sitting down during one of her breaks between creating glass art here in Norfolk, I got a chance to ask Toots about her process and what to expect to see during this residency.
AltDaily: In the beginning, what drew you to glass?
Toots Zynsky: What attracted me to glassblowing was that you had to move to do it and there was a whole team working together in what looked like this amazing spontaneous choreography. I’ve always loved dance and the appeal of being able to use a material and apply my creativity to it was instantly more intriguing than anything else I had experienced or seen. Of course there were also the furnaces and the sound, everything about it. That’s really what attracted me to it, and what keeps me attracted to it, although the technique that I’ve evolved, which is the filet de verre technique I am using currently, is not what I’m really employing while I’m at this residency. I don’t work with hot molten glass in my studio anymore; I’m not a glassblower anymore, although I was once upon a time. I evolved to another technique that involves millions of glass threads, fusing and thermoforming in a kiln. This residency is giving me the possibility to be in a hot shop with hot glass furnaces, lots of equipment, and a really wonderful team of really skilled and enthusiastic glass makers to collaborate with and experiment, which is a real gift.
Lets talk a little bit about the work you have created these last two days.
So first of all it is an all new team; we’ve never worked together before and didn’t even know each other, so each day we have been warming up and increasing the scale of the work. [The team] is generally getting used to each other and the timing but at the same time doing some very serious experiments. We are purposely doing some pieces that I think are really interesting for spectators because they learn a lot about the different qualities that glass has, like the hot spun pieces where four people at once are spinning hot molten glowing orange thread onto a piece, and it suddenly turns crystalline before their eyes—I mean I’m fascinated by it so I hope they are too. For me it’s a huge pleasure to make these pieces. I made them for a short period of time then I kept going and evolving into something else and I love the opportunity to do it again. It’s kind of like going back to the beginning and touching home base for me again and taking off from that.
I’ve actually brought some of the threads with me. We produce glass thread every day in my studio [located in Providence, Rhode Island], and so it’s great to be able to work in a hot shop and apply those threads in a different way as bundles, as almost fabric like forms that are veiled over another form that we’re blowing. I’m not 100% sure what I want it to look like; somewhere in the back of my mind I am but in order to find that we have to try every possible way for how to accomplish that. I know during the residency we are going to find it, whether by process of elimination or by just watching what is happening and realizing I didn’t preview what could result.
And for the rest of the residency [Saturday and Sunday]?
We are going to keep trying techniques, and things will evolve quickly, because we find out what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong pretty immediately. It’s great to have all this equipment at once to be able to do that with, and always something unexpected happens. There are so many different people working those “unexpected” things, which we call unexpected but it’s not really unexpected. It’s consciously unexpected, but afterwards when you look at it you’re like of course—that was bound to happen. Somewhere in the back of your mind you probably understood that already.
At first I resisted doing this residency because I knew that people would expect to see the technique that I use but it’s not one that’s transferable to just any studio. Everything in my studio is specifically designed, and each piece of equipment is specifically designed to enable me to work the way that I work, which is not how anybody else works. I have absolutely no secrets; I’ll show anybody anything, it’s just impossible to transfer that to another studio. However, because my background is in every other method of glass forming over the years–I’ve done everything from casting, fusing, blowing, and slumping, used video, and performance with glass–it is part of my work to be here doing what I’m doing, and conducting experiments.
I love having the possibility to work with the team again, blow again, work really fast. I’m happy to be here.
We are thrilled to have Toots Zynsky here with us in the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, working Saturday 10am-5pm, with a short break at 1pm, and again on Sunday 10am-1pm. Toots will also be giving a lecture on her extensive body of work and innovative method of working, which includes a glass thread pulling machine of her own invention. The lecture will be at the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio from 4-5pm. All events are free and open to the public, and are part of the continuing Visiting Artist Series.