Christopher Duffy Essay by Robin Rice
Fall 2011 Fellow
“My work is more of high kitchen science – not high tech,” states Christopher Duffy. The complicated professional life of the 2011 Fall 2 resident fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America touches on many areas of sensation and ordering beyond the visual. His habit of making lists in a notebook and “sticking to them or not” is indicative of an omnivorous intelligence united with confidence in his intuitive choices.
Music is a major part of Duffy’s life, but rather than playing an instrument, he works as a live crew member for mash-up artist Girl Talk (Gregg Michael Gillis). On stage, Girl Talk melds electronic party music with visual elements designed by Duffy that include lights, projections and machines that interact with the audience. Duffy’s inventions complement and sometimes almost seem to drive the high energy sample-based performance. He is also one of several crew members who are “dancing and acting crazy on stage” while simultaneously looking out for the safety of performers and audience members in a bacchanalian setting. This tri-partite activity, simultaneously planned, spontaneous, and detached, suits Duffy’s artist persona: part technique-driven and calculated; part expressive, improvisational and participatory, and part clear-headed observer.
Following a related pattern, his work process is sometimes like the thesis; antithesis; synthesis of a syllogism. He says, “My favorite thing to do is to be working on two separate ideas and then join them so they are continuations of the same idea.” He likes work that appeals directly to the senses, but to be interesting to him, the same work must be meaningful intellectually.
Duffy is comfortable with precision. In particular, he’s the relatively rare glass blower who enjoys cold working.
“I realized early on that utilizing the cold shop in both the design and experimentation phases of pieces was crucial. Some glass blowers treat the cold shop like high school detention …, but I really like it. I find the hot shop fun, loud, fast moving, improvisational, communal, team based, and sometimes stressful (in a rewarding way in the end). So, in contrast, I enjoy the cold shop for its solitary, slow, meditative, quiet but focused, nature. It requires a whole different kind of concentration and dedication.”
He sometimes uses air-inflated machines for his stage designs and is working on smaller air-powered ones. One would make drawings using markers or pencils attached to “fingers” that move and bounce around. “I think the gears and belts and pulleys are interesting.”At this time, the machines can’t draw independently for long, Duffy has to baby sit them.
Moiré patterns are among the optical illusions and interference patterns that interest him. At CGCA, he experimented with glass disks, rotating disks embedded with precisely curved intersecting patterns of black canes in the Venetian reticello tradition. Suspended from the rotating mechanism designed for a mirror ball they act as screens through which light is projected throwing dizzying, brain-challenging lattices across a large area. There is beauty and mystery in the rippling distortions.
The thin spun-out disks can also be treated as flat sheets and cut into sections that are bent and joined into ever more complicated three-dimensional construction. Duffy experimentally placed the disks on a record turntable and hoped for usable audio of some sort. The results are not productive so far, but Duffy has not completely abandoned what may be a future immersion in mechanical, glass generated synesthesia.
Written by Robin Rice