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  • Prof. Helen Storey

Craft is radical

Craft, at its best, is a radical force. In the face of a world now largely in the tow of speed, you could consider craft an extreme. It has the power to moderate; it’s an invitation to share the forensics of us and to notice our own detail, whilst gifting us too, an opportunity to feel re connected to time – before it all got, so God damn fast. I seem drawn to run at that pace, but was brought to a most beautiful halt earlier this year when I entered a glass foundry on the island of Murano in Venice, there, at Studio Berengo I was on a mission to work with glass for the first time.

As soon as I entered the historic work space, I fell in love with the place and the art – that we can’t settle on whether glass is a liquid, or a solid, makes the mystery of the material unendingly mesmerising for the creative mind and working there, on a cold winter’s day, moving past the sequence of open and roaring fires, was like having my soul repeatedly kissed. I went there feeling fearful, unsure what the relationship to the creative process was going to be like. It was an overwhelmingly male place. Men on wooden benches, their tools all around them, sat centrally down the length of the foundry. They seemed to be waiting in century long silence, with only the sound of hidden roaring flames to be heard. Suddenly, the plates of stone, hanging heavy on the furnace doors were yanked back and in the short window of time that chemistry lets you play with glass, they worked in confident frenzy.

Temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit are necessary for glass to be molten enough to sculpt, cajole, twist, stretch and ask into shape, into a designers wish. A piece can’t be any bigger, or heavier than a single man can physically hold, but perhaps most notable of all, was the mixed feeling of being simultaneously in awe and made redundant at the same time. Although I often feel an absence of self at the point of an idea’s emergence, I felt bereft and useless, as the relationship between mind, hand and material was broken and given, by necessity, over to the glass Masters. Glass making asks extraordinary things of us, if we are to be allowed to work with it. And to be a part of that dance, so irrevocably played by nature’s rules, reminds me of the life qualities, that in turn sculpt us; humility, trust, risk, patience and bearing unknown outcomes, they are all there in glass and its making – it was keeping these tensions between desire and possibility intact, that told me what to design.

The Dress of Glass & Flame is then, a wish to keep the connection between her making and her life thereafter, alive. It mirrors my practice too, something that seems forever rooted in a fascination for how things come to be, and how they atrophy. Less seriously, it’s perhaps also a thank you and a wink, in that it’s within a woman’s abdomen that the flame is kept aglow.

In collaboration with The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), University of Sheffield, Berengo Studio (Venice/Italy), London College of Fashion and Helen Storey Foundation.

Discover more about Dress of Glass and Flame.

May 31 – November 24, 2013

Glasstress: White Light / White Heat Contemporary artists and glass Collateral Event of the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Opens in London at LCF and The Wallace collection: 27th November to the 24 Feb 2014

And touring UK in association with The Royal Society of Chemistry during 2014 - venues to be announced shortly.


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