The glass collections located on the 4th floor of the V&A Museum in South Kensington feature a small but varied selection of contemporary pieces by artists from around the world (displayed in Room 129, The Märit Rausing Gallery). Among the most interesting exhibits on show at the time of my visit in early February 2019 was the figurative sculpture “Brick Man” (2002) by British ceramicist and glass sculptor Max Jacquard.
The life-size body of Jacquard’s shrouded man was created using sand-blasted pieces of cut glass, bound together with wires and suspended from a column just above eye level to give the impression that this fragile, mummy-like, patchwork glass figure was levitating overhead. The label mentions the sculptor’s intention to convey “the sense of isolation, self-protection and perhaps a certain brittle vulnerability felt by the artist’s ego,” with the glass framework serving (in an ironic way) as a “protective shell.” The delicacy and lightness of the materials gave this piece a spectral quality that was both intriguing and mesmerizing to observe, and provoked many thoughts about the precarity of human existence.
Other beautiful glass exhibits – both ancient and modern – that caught my eye as I wandered through the galleries included a highly decorated 16th century Turkish basin, created using a repetitive pattern of blue and turquoise scrolls described as the “Golden Horn” (c. 1545), and named after an inlet near Istanbul where this design has been commonly found on ceramics and silverware dating from that period.
In contrast, Toots Zynsky’s colourful sculpture “Dondolante Serena” (2000) represented one of the most contemporary pieces on display, made using a process of drawn glass thread, fused together and hot worked into a kaleidoscopic, fan-shaped vessel.
Seattle-based artist Dale Chihuly’s sculptures feature very prominently at the V&A, with his blown glass Chandelier (2001) occupying the central space in the Rotunda at the main entrance to the South Kensington site. This work, and others – such as the piece shown below, titled “Deep Blue and Bronze Gold Persian Set” (1989) – form part of a collection of highly decorated, rib-moulded sculptures whose organic shapes and intricate assemblages of bulbs, spirals, trailing branches and conical-shaped flutes are informed by the historic techniques of the Murano glassworks in Venice as well as earlier designs for ancient vessels and bottles found in Persia and Egypt.
Throughout June, July and August I visited a number of exhibitions where sculptural representations of the human body dominated the presentations. Although each showcase was distinctive, the unifying aspect was the way the artists and/or the curators had installed the works to provoke powerful encounters between the sculptures and the moving bodies of the visitors interacting within the architectural settings of the galleries. Below is a review of a selection of the works, with additional details about the venues where they were most recently displayed.
Desrie Thomson-George’s ‘Jilo: The Survivor’ (2018) – Borough Road Gallery, London
Jilo: The Survivor was the title of a solo retrospective by the Guyanese-born British contemporary visual artist Desrie Thomson-George, displayed at London Southbank University’s Borough Road Gallery (July 2018). Several of the drawings and sculptures presented in this exhibition featured representations of the artist’s alter ego, Jilo. Collectively, these works conveyed aspects of the life struggles experienced by black women over many generations throughout the African diaspora(s) worldwide, particularly in relation to challenging racism, sexism, inequalities and injustices in order to achieve a liberated sense of self.
Desrie’s figural sculptures are often created using Jesmonite embedded with recycled materials (such as metal, glass, latex and textiles). and many of them present the realisation and maturation of the liberated female self in a series of stages, so that the process of achieving a positive sense of identity and wholeness is visualised as a life-long journey. In her artist’s statement written to promote the exhibition, Desrie explains:
“My work is driven by political, social and cultural issues of being a Black woman living in the West… Through the creation of figurative sculptures and installations I tell the story of Jilo, a Black woman, her struggles and her journey. Her invisibility, while being visible, and the irony of this. I experiment with recycled metal, glass, paper and textiles… selected deliberately to symbolise different states of being. For example: metal for strength; latex – invisibility and vulnerability; glass – fragility; and paper – media or propaganda.”