Andrew Newbold Essay

Andrew Newbold Essay

Andrew Newbold
Spring 2006 Fellow

Andrew Newbold, a Spring 2006 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, approaches glass with an architectural and industrial sensibility. Identical mold blown lengths of glass pipe corralled behind a metal rod in his studio at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center appear simultaneously mass machine-like.

Newbold, a dedicated skateboarder, describes himself as being drawn to the “physicality” of glass, a discipline in which one can always “learn new tricks.” His researches into the ancient technologies of glass-making are one aspect of this desire for mastery of the medium in all its potential.

One could also theorize that the phenomenological qualities of Newbold’s installations reflect a well honed almost subconscious body-sense of the spatial aspects of his surroundings, an exaggerated perceptual skill needed by one who moves rapidly through unfamiliar territory.

Newbold’s 2005 MFA show at Tyler University consisted of the modification—or the massive embellishment– of an industrial space, an old Schmidts Brewery, which had been adapted but not really remodeled as an exhibition space. “I fell in love with the raw industrial characteristics of the space.” Using techniques from mold-blowing to slumping glass, Newbold built severe floor-to-ceiling pipes of sectioned glass joined by metal collars. He placed lights. “A network of tubes and wires and hoppers” mimicked or interpreted his impressions other old New Jersey factories, places he enjoys exploring. As Ann Hamilton often does in her installations, he extended or postulated the extension of his work beyond the physical boundaries of the visible space. “I want to activate a space from floor to ceiling,” he says, but he wants more: he wants the visitor to sense “a potential continuation above and below the surface of the gallery.”

The production environment of yesteryear was a place through which objects for consumption were assembled, channeled, ordered, packaged and shipped out. Newbold is awed by the scope of these spaces, both physical and metaphorical. From childhood to old age, many men spent their working lives in factories. Though the shells of these structures remain imposing in our urban environment, their day is gone. Newbold’s exhibition title “Transitions,” suggests these layered histories and more.

Newbold’s completed group of site-specific works is a mirror of thelebenswelt (life world), a densely textured reconstruction of perceptual experience, ghostly memories diagrammed in glass and steel, but a life which implicitly extends beyond the building walls.

The original context, the old brewery, was itself an example of what Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) called the “Umwelt,” (environing space)a space between the strictly personal and the world space, a space of predictable interactions with others and the local environment. In theUmwelt, people interact with familiar people and with familiar objects in expected ways. In the larger world beyond the Umwelt is the ordering of all human experience. Practical structures characterize the Umwelt. But, as Newbold’s work illustrates, though it may be familiar, theUmwelt is not as stable as it seems. It is always changing.

A major structure in “Transitions” was a water tower built of slumped and blown glass with a steel roof (119” x 52” x 52”). At the time he made it, Newbold was not familiar with Rachel Whiteread’s 1998 Water Tower on a Soho rooftop, but his tower has some of the same qualities, especially transparency which suggests both the clarity of water, the functional invisibility of quotidian structures, and the evanescence of old water towers. Newbold has a long standing “interest in rooftop scenery.”

Newbold perhaps lays bare the artifice of his translation of this practical industrial reality by using glass in place of the materials which would have originally been used in the old factory. Glass can seem ghostly and fragile, reminding us that the factory hands are long gone; that however massive and productive and important to many lives it once was, that Umwelt is extinct.

Key to Husserl’s vision of the Lebenswelt, was his recognition that people are generally unaware of their relationship to these personal spatial worlds. Artists like Newbold offer insight by directing out attention to things which are usually “invisible” and to the ways in which they construct identity. “Things that have been used and discarded are ambiguous and speak of that infinite network of exhaust and management.”

Newbold, has always been sensitive to the built environment. Before turning to the industrial structures which continued to engage him at Wheaton, he was fascinated by old barns he saw while a student in Ohio at the Columbus College of Art and Design (BFA, 1999). In glass, he attempted to reproduce the “specificity” and “beautiful surfacing of aged objects.” Since Ohio, he has become more engaged by the urban environment in Philadelphia and he finds parallels between aging urban structures and farm buildings. On bridges and water towers he is attracted to the bolts and metal straps which facilitate the engineering. He likes to reproduce these in metal, but he likes to use glass for big statements. At Wheaton he was concentrating on mold-making and mold-blowing pseudo-industrial forms. “Glass is a very strong material. It’s very structural. I’m always confronting what the glass is physically capable of doing and what I am capable of doing with it.”