Glass meets technology at Silica Valley | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Glass meets technology at Silica Valley

click to enlarge Mining Industries: Planned Industrial Community Lowell - PHOTO: TIM THAYER/ROBERT HENSLEIGH
Photo: Tim Thayer/Robert Hensleigh
Mining Industries: Planned Industrial Community Lowell
Glasswork is an artform generally associated with analog tools, but Silica Valley, a new show at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, showcases glass artists who incorporate technology, from 3D printing to waterjet cutting, into their work. Featuring a collection of artists from around the country and the world, the pieces push the limit for what is possible with glass.

While all the pieces were made using advanced and specialized technology, it’s not obvious what tools were used or how. “They all use technology, but there’s no technology here,” says curator John Sharvin. “The technology is crucial to their work, but it’s not visually present in their work.”

The tools allows the artists to make glass pieces with precision that would otherwise be impossible, like carving the exact topography of a mountain or creating geometric pieces that fit together.


One of the biggest and most visually captivating pieces is a 3D map of Lowell, Mass. by Norwood Viviano, from his Mining Industries series. Viviano pieced together maps and aerial photos of Lowell and employed LiDar (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to punch data points into a 3D modeling software to create a model of the town.

Norwood then used a 3D printer to create a plastic model which he used to create a rubber mold, which he then filled with wax to make a positive mold, which he then smoothed out and put into plaster silica, before finally melting the wax for a mold that could hold up to the temperatures needed for glass casting. Easy peasy.

“The fragility of glass serves as a metaphor for balance between time, efficiency, and the inability of manufacturing to change and meet future needs,” writes Viviano in a statement about the piece. “The project aims to reconcile the past with the potential futures of urban industrial centers.”

His piece, which looks like an impossibly detailed ice sculpture, is the perfect example of Sharvin’s thesis for the show. Technology doesn’t necessarily make the work of glassmaking easier, but it makes more things possible. Without that kind of data-mapping technology, it would be near impossible to depict the map with accuracy.
click to enlarge Deconstructed Being III - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOANNE MITCHELL
Photo Courtesy of Joanne Mitchell
Deconstructed Being III
Though, not quite as impossible as it would be to carve out of glass the exact topography of a mountain, as Daniel Cutrone does in his Object of Desire series. Cutrone uses CNC (computer numerical control) to devise the shape of Mt. Olympus or Mt. Everest, and then creates a blown glass sphere around it.


“You can’t make this without computers, it won’t be accurate,” says Sharvin of Cutrone’s work. “You can try as hard as you can to meticulously carve out each topographical line of this mountain, but you won’t be able to get the accuracy that you want.”

Two artists in the show, Joanne Mitchell and Vanessa Cutler, both based in the U.K., use waterjet cutting to create their work (high-pressured water used to cut material instead of another tool that generates heat). Mitchell’s piece features “controlled air bubbles” to create tiny human figures trapped in glass blocks. “The embodied air proposes that we are here then gone – perhaps leaving a trace. The forms have both physical presence and absence,” Mitchell writes in her artist’s statement.

Cutler, who on her website describes her relationship with waterjet technology as “part of my chemical makeup” has been working with the process for years – she literally has a Ph.D. in applying waterjet cutting to glass arts. A couple of her pieces create geometric shapes using five-axis waterjet cutters, which Sharvin says were previously only used for things like creating turbine engines for rocket ships.
In any field, traditionalists can get skittish when new technology is introduced, fearing it will take away from the labor or integrity that goes into the project. But as Silica Valley proves, it’s often the opposite.

“The technology used here, it’s just a tool. It’s paramount to their process, but it’s still very much handmade,” says Sharvin. “It was designed by hand, assembled by hand. It’s not just click and print.”

Silica Valley. Continues through Sun., May 24. 5472 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Free. pittsburghglasscenter.org

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