Innovative cast-glass art

FRAN DIBBLE
Last updated 12:00 11/01/2013

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REVIEW: A holiday day trip to Masterton gives the chance to visit Aratoi, the Wairarapa Museum of Art and History.

It has been ages since I've been to Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, but the holiday period has finally allowed time for one of these day trips away.

It is a gallery I always like to see, being a size that gives you enough of a tasting without requiring too much sustained effort, but also never a once-over. It offers little treats at every turn, with a broad sampling.

This visit I looked through the local history room where I photographed my son-in-law standing before the portrait by Gottfried Lindauer of one of his great-grandfathers, a former chief of the area, Te Retimana Te Korou, of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe, who gave land to Joseph Masters, after whom Masterton is named.

One of the galleries is currently displaying recent inclusions in the collection, a curious mix of great variety, including artefacts and ceramics, a selection of small taxidermy (a thin stoat, a scraggy bat and, in better condition, a huia), some historical remnants. One is a ship's biscuit, with the date April 1869 inscribed on this inedible-looking snack. Enter the back hall and you nearly bump into the gallery's Barbara Hepworth Forms in Movement from 1956. At the end of the corridor, circling around back to the front desk, is a modern model of a Mayan flying machine. So it is a strange collection, which stirs the imagination.

I hope the gallery won't change too much, now that the director, Marcus Boroughs, one of my favourites, has sadly left, lost into the ether, becoming assimilated somewhere in the Auckland Museum.

But the subject of this review is the room filled with glass, luminous and glowing, an exhibition toured from the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui.

The accolades for curating the exhibition go to Greg Donson, of the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui, but perhaps it is more fitting to see it here, nearer the artists' home in Martinborough.

There, Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams, along with a team of helpers, have set up a glass studio, calling themselves the "The Crystal Chain Gang". They have chosen a new lifestyle, having previously been Wellingtonians, which is now complete with chickens, growing vegetables and quarter-acre bliss.

Fools Flight Fancy is the title of the exhibition put together by the group, the works having been made by a piecemeal method of amalgamation.

There is a cloud of birds making their way across a wall, with some, on closer look, having curious grafted heads, a chandelier made of bird parts, and a many-legged, elegant, long table on which is the main element of the exhibition, a collection of bottles - large, rounded bulbous forms like lamps.

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These aren't really vessels, because they are solid, big chunks of clear glass. Bubbles are caught, fixed in time as they have drifted up during casting, with a deep colour in the base.

The bottle shapes are taken from the big perfume and bath-salt bottles from the 1970s and 80s, which are then stoppered. Sometimes the stoppers are stacked high, with other elements added onto the top, as a layered assemblage.

The various elements are found in second-hand shops or perhaps acquired from the odd friend's mantelpiece. Then a whole series of latex rubber moulds are made, enabling these elements to be transformed into wax replicas. These are then put together, with a cut and paste or hot knife and solder used to montage it into the one object. A mould is built up around the object, the wax is melted out, it is placed in a kiln and it is slowly heated so the glass slowly fills up and takes on the shape.

This fast-paced rush through the method here is not for divergence, but because it is pivotal to the product.

If you recognise some portion of these strange objects, like the parrot holding its head in a cocky slant, the monarch's head with the puffed-up hair, don't be surprised. The methodology is central to the artwork, a combination of recycling and then transformation into glass.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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