Joe Grant III Essay

Joe Grant III Essay

Joe Grant III
Fall 2006 Fellow

“There’s a part of me that sees technology as a failed utopian promise,” says Joe Grant, a Fall, and 2006 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America. Building on a sophisticated interest in science and emerging technology and a noteworthy and perhaps related interest in modularity, Grant’s approach is humanistic and often strongly based in narrative. Grant is thoughtful about political events and other aspects of our postmodern world: “The timeline is not in order any more,” he observes, suggesting that not only history but hierarchies of meaning no longer retain the privileged status of truth. “[Artists] seem to reach in and grab what they want and mash it all together.”

Grant deals with the complexities and ambiguity of contemporary life by learning as much as he can and grounding his work in a reality which encompasses contemporary politics, stem cell research, and blastocytes, fractals. The visionary life-extension theories of Aubrey de Grey engage him as intensely as the quirky saga of a neighbor in North Carolina, a former playboy who built a building without square corners and crashed his possibly drug-transporting plane into a lake. At Wheaton Arts, Grant planned to construct a work memorializing that crash, in which the plane was lost forever beneath the water. Grant will illustrate the story literally using the fluidity of melted glass. “I’m trying to make a tiny airplane and sink it in the bottom of this big slab of cast glass that generally mimics the shape of the lake I’m living on.”

Grant’s earlier nods to science include sham castings of the noses of scientists who worked on the Manhattan project and a portrait of Aubrey de Grey’s beard. Of the Manhattan scientists and the disastrous consequences of their development of atomic weapons, he says, “Couldn’t they smell it coming?”

But what is the meaning of 14U, the human silhouette he constructed of real cigarette butts pinned to the wall? They are alternately labeled “One for me,” and, “One for you?” Is the human figure the ghost of a ritual that immolates the cigarettes and or a ghost of those who smoke them?

As in 14U and the architectonic Communal framed in neatly pegged segments of wood, Grant does not feel an exclusive allegiance to glass. Grant could have made Aubrey de Grey’s beard in glass, but he chose plastic because is more resilient and, therefore, Grant believes, a better metaphor for communicating de Grey’s ideas about longevity. The choice of plastic and the questions some ask about its ecological impact brings in an ambiguity that is reflected in the potential of de Grey’s theories. “If we have these options of living forever, is that something we should fear or embrace?”

Grant studied industrial design and architecture following a serious interest in music and he continues to feel connected with both fields; however, he found that “not only the process of glass was so interesting, but the community and people I met made it interesting.” Working with glass in the hot shop also is a physically rewarding exercise for him.

“It’s important for an artist to have a material sensibility. I like to talk about the transformative quality of glass. There are so many different tempos. You can work quickly or slowly. Glass has a really wide vocabulary; if you know it well, it can say just about anything.”