"I always like to work on several pieces because it keeps it fresh. I’m trying to do a lot of different things while I’m here: a mass load of stuff." About half-way through her Summer, 2003 residency at the Creative Glass Center of America, Jennifer Blazina, was concentrating on making and stockpiling cast glass to be used in at least four installations.
The past is an important source for Blazina, who notes the following themes which thread through her work: rites of passage, immigration, and moments of memory. Incorporating oral narratives passed from her Italian grandmother through her mother to her, Blazina constructs installations which relate to her on her Italian-American family history and to women’s roles. "In general, stories are passed through a maternal figure." Trained as a printmaker (MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1996), she often uses appropriated family snapshots to tell her stories.
Her installations typically are wall-related and depend on repetition for their effect. Often many small works incorporating silk-screened photographs appropriated or taken by the Blazina herself, contextualize one or more large glass panels printed with larger images. Pieces hung away from the wall cast shadows and allow viewers to move around them. The image seen form on one side of the glass may be crisper than that seen from the other. The constituent parts of each installation and its general structure are pre-determined, but each presentation becomes specific to a particular venue.
Blazina resists "the idea of categorizing myself by medium." She likes to combine materials with contrasting textures and temperatures. Wedding pictures, for example, are presented with satin and steel, as well as cast-resin frames. "I never would think of calling myself a glass artist or a painter but I call myself an artist." Nevertheless, she says, "I love that frosty translucence of glass. I like the way glass comes out of the kiln; it’s very similar to bronze. I don’t have any interest in hot glass."
Mending is the tentative title of one project Blazina worked on at CGCA. She sees mending as emblematic of women’s domestic activities: repetitive tasks like washing and ironing and repairing. In the metaphorical sense, to Blazina, these behaviors are connected with larger issues of loss and repair, areas of psychological nurturing or "mending" which often fall to women.
For Mending, Blazina hoped to cast one hundred glass frames which will be used to display photographs she has taken of her own hands in proximity to work implements that relate to sewing and ironing and caring for clothes "They are really close-up so they are photographs of the tools not of me. I often use hands as subjects. I’m always thinking about communication through gesture, but I also think of them as a tool of my work."
Resting, an installation of 95 wall panels in the forms of miniature frames and bird nests incorporating screened images, was also planned before Blazina applied to CGCA. silk-screen wall panels reproducing both text based on diaries and letters and photographs will commemorate the life of her grandmother and reveal "family secrets and family thoughts," but sometimes the information will be deliberately obscured.
Turning to her own collection of birds’ nests, Blazina modeled nests in clay. She added bark and twine before making moulds from these models. Casting the nests in pale grey or blue glass, she experimented with printing images inside of the nests, and printing images in lockets which will be placed in the nests, almost like eggs.
Blazina says, "The room of English miniatures at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of my favorite rooms in the entire world." The notion of embedding or encasing images is very resonant for Blazina. "Portraits often were remembrances in life that people would hold after [the subject] had passed away." In Italian cemeteries where she has visited the graves of relatives, Blazina was fascinated by gravestones decorated with porcelain mounts enclosing photographs of the deceased. When we envision the continuing existence of a photograph, the record of a single moment in time preserved and projected into the future, it becomes a memento mori, a reminder of a the brevity of life.
Blazina plans to place the nests for Resting on small wooden shelves. "I don’t want it to look too nostalgic. I think that when they are on shelves, they are like offerings almost." This notion of offering resurfaces in her series of Little Altars. The idea grows out of her study of Christian religious art in many times and places. "First, I was thinking it would be nice to ‘canonize’ people in my family. I got over that, but began thinking about how people build shrines to moments." These altars, which are intended to appear informal or home-made, rather than official religious statements, would commemorate moments Blazina or members of her family have experienced.
The last project under development, is tentatively called Nocturne. "When I’m working on things, I start with an idea but it usually morphs into something else." Blazina was initially intrigued by metal stars, architectural decorations which mark the "post in" on the sides of brick federalist buildings. These are attached to the wall with bolts but do not connect directly with the beams they mark. As she envisions the installation at this early stage, these stars would be mounted on gallery walls. Frosted glass panels, perhaps as large as 4′ x 6′, silk-screened with pictures of the night sky will be hung away from wall, from the ceiling with wires. The central image will be a photograph on a glass panel of her grandmother at the age of 25, flying among the clouds in a bi-plane.
This installation is destined for a gently lit darkened space. "I think it will be a beautiful, calm piece. But there are so many parts and stages to what I do. I never get to see it until its hanging in the finished place.