Spring, 2013 Fellow
In addressing ordinarily discrete disciplines and the processes and concepts generated by them — bodies of knowledge that have engaged lifetimes of work and study — Andrew Bearnot can’t settle for just one. His curriculum vitae thus far is a provocative bricolage of studies and cultures. However, Bearnot, a Spring, 2013 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, is neither a syncretist nor superficial appropriator in the mode of fusion cuisine. He thinks about the core orientations of things. He’s a bit of a purist.
It’s trendy today to infuse smatterings of science into art projects, giving them a flavor of the scientific character of our age (or the immediately preceding one). Bearnot has gone further than most. He completed two undergraduate degrees in 2009: a Bachelors of Science in Materials Engineering at Brown University and a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Glass at the Rhode Island School of Design. In subsequent linked studies, including an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a Fulbright at Linneaus University and Glafo, The Glass Research Institute, he has often concentrated on the perception of color in glass.
For two years, Bearnot lived and studied in Scandinavia. He was fascinated by the material culture, particularly in Sweden, where the idea of beauty in everyday design is seen as the basis of a heathy society. “The goal of joining superior design with industrialization was to provide the rising middle class with beautiful objects for everyday utility…. I was fascinated with what came out of that exercise, the vocabulary of form and technology. When I was there I encountered the quite remarkable society that underpins it…. Design is something very deeply felt in the culture. There is a great sensitivity to small shifts in scale, weight, surface, clarity of material.”
One of Bernot’s projects at CGCA was to refine his design of a carafe with two glasses. The “Lens” set grew out of his time at Riksglasskolan Orrefors, the national school of glass in Sweden. “Here [at Wheaton], I adjusted the form very slightly, by millimeters.” When one looks across the table through the lens-like base of one of the glasses, when drinking from it perhaps, it functions as a camera obscura, projecting a tiny inverted image of the surroundings. Bearnot would like to manufacture this set, in part because he feels that the gesture of designing will not be completed until the object is commercially available.
The handle-less carafe quotes “a tradition of conical forms that has occurred over the last seventy years in Scandinavian society” with roots going back at least another hundred years. The paired tumblers situate the set in a dialogue of human interaction that could be expanded to include more glasses and a larger conversation. Bearnot deliberately chose drinking vessels of modest size. He appreciates the Scandinavian custom of serving several small portions, rather than one big one. “I discovered that design could be a location for creating a moment of engaged awareness, a moment of discovery.”
A second project, designing and making colored glass windows for a tiny train station, originally built in 1897 in Palermo, NJ, but now on the WheatonArts grounds, also alluded to Bearnot’s time in Scandinavia, to the consciousness of light that intensifies when days are very short or very long. “In Scandinavia I was aware of light in a new way as it changes through the day and the seasons — the way the whole society is structured to manage that shift.” The quiet shared time indoors on evenings when the sun sets as early as 3 pm has a special name. Mys (in Sweden, Hygge in Denmark) is usually translated as coziness, but cozy in a profound way, a state of mind as well as a physical state. “It means combating the darkness by being together, low light, quiet time. You use your space in a different way and interact with others in a different way than you do in the summer. There is a sense of the sky being supernatural there.”
Bearnot hopes to capture the resonant blues of twilight in panels made in the old way from blown rondels and slumped into sheets, “something like a window made of sky.” A tank of dark blue-black glass was melted to exploit the smooth color transitions possible in glass, shifts that resemble atmospheric color in ways not possible using the coarser gradations characteristic of other mediums like the computer or print photography. In this way Bearnot hopes to engage the sensitivity of the human eye that sees more than photography can record. He regards the work for the railroad station and an earlier barn window in Sweden as the beginning of a shift toward architectural scale, an important step for him. “i felt that the objects really needed to be in relation to architecture for me to talk about the things that I’m interested in, the sensations of body and environment.”
“For me what makes the window really alive is the way it is possibly affected by the environment. Here, it is sky though which you see a sky, a peculiar filter that is constantly shifting.” These concerns are similarly found in the work of artists Bearnot respects, the often monumental, light-based work of James Turrell in an earlier generation. “(He changed my life several times”) and the more recent overwhelming, color-saturated environments constructed by Danish-Icelandic Ólafer Eliasson. “I hope for a small fraction of that intensity,” Bearnot says.
He consulted with Wheaton stained-glass artist J. Kenneth Leap, who is knowledgeable about the latest stained-glass technology. Bearnot’s completed installation, “Twilight Station” is currently part of the boxy almost playlhouse-like structure, an intimate yet public space at WheatonArts. Its varied blues evoke the twilight or dawn hour, sometimes called “the blue hour,” traditionally associated with feelings of nostalgia and transition. They windows are appropriate to the provisional stability of a pause in travel. The sense of a paradoxical interweaving of past and future is enhanced by the current abandonment of this proprietary rail line in the woods.
“I’m as much interested in the tradition of window-making as I am in the curious feeling of time shifting or place shifting that happens from the sudden shifting of day becoming night,” Bearnot says. He is mindful of the context and requirements of his work and places realistic restraints on grandiosity; however, he values being able to say with confidence, “These colors will stay forever.”
Written by Robin Rice