Fall 2007 Fellow
“I took my first gather at Penland when I was eighteen. I walked into the glass studio and said, ‘This is home.’” With a background as a musician and gymnast, Kiara Pelissier, a Fall 2007 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, already had the discipline, coordination, and understanding of the precision necessary for glass blowing. More important, she brought enthusiasm, creative energy, and responsiveness to the material.
Like many glass artists, especially the younger ones, Pelissier produces a line of functional (and marketable) work in addition to pieces that are sculptural and often contain — sometimes exclusively — materials other than glass. Her precise one-of-a-kind lidded jars, in which an “RISD fold” makes a tight-fitting join, have almost neoclassical restrained silhouettes in which gentle curves merge gracefully with straight lines. The lids tend to terminate in slightly exaggerated baluster-like vertical handles, sometimes in small more irregular, organic clusters. “A good fitting lid for me is very satisfying. If I were to abandon that entirely, I’d lose touch with the material” Pelissier acknowledges. “But,” she adds, “at the same time, I have some things I want to say—just my own individual voice in the material.”
That voice transmitted through what Pelissier describes as the “bi-polar nature of glass.” is evident in two bodies of sculptural work. One group of almost impossibly precise works juxtaposes a single complex vertical structure like the cone enclosing a suspended stack of graduated glass spheres, in Mind over Matter (2004) or a vertical cylinder containing a glass feather suspended on music wire in Tuned (2004), which she says is “all about inner balance.” Both works are completed by vertical wooden pedestals. No additional framing context is required to understand the emphasis on an extreme of verticality, and precession: This is about perfection: its beauty, its inherent artifice, and its continuous negotiation with imperfection. Knowledge of Pelissier’s extensive participation in competitive gymnastics adds a new understanding of metonymy with a kind of internalized body memory. The often unconsidered sense of ourselves as vertical beings moving in harmony with and opposition to the horizontal gravity of the earth is familiar but developed to a higher level in athletes, dancers, and gymnasts. In Mind over Matter the glass stack is positioned on one end of a composite wood base that Pelissier intentionally made 4” wide, the width of a balance beam.
In addition to elements of precision, the performative aspects of glass blowing can be seen as extensions of Pelissier’s experience as a gymnast as well as her eleven years as a serious flutist. Realizing in her freshman year of college that flute “was not my passion,” she switched to art. “Glass,” she says, “is a real combination of the athletic and the aesthetic.”
Her goal is “to communicate with my work a sense of tension and ambiguity, a flux, and a balance.” The sustained, even exaggerated, verticality of these sculptures suggesting lightness and reach beyond the ordinary.
Since earning a 2000 BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Pelissier has worked with many major glass artists. From 2001-2003 she was an assistant to Michael Schunke whom she regards as one of the best glass blowers today. These experiences followed by her MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (2006) honed her focus on perfection: rigid, fragile and refined upon nature, qualities exemplified by “the way I was taught glass blowing in the Venetian style. I felt I had to get it as tight as I could in order to free myself of that. In graduate school, I destroyed myself. I started to realize perfection was impossible. I realized that everything: good bad or ugly was inspiring. Now, I feel that I should pull from [all experience], that ‘wasted time’ is not wasted.””
Lately, Pelissier has “embraced the other qualities of glass,” it’s more liquid protean nature, the formative moments known to those who handle hot glass and the freedom of chance. The pieces she familiarly calls “crumples” illustrate perfection deliberately destroyed — the perfect blown glass sphere crunched while at its most malleable. She blows a bubble out as thin as possible and heats it until the walls are about to buckle on their own before intentionally collapsing them. “I want some to look tortured and forced and some to look free.”
The sculpture Innate contains over 200 blown crumpled pieces. Perversely, Pelissier likens the inchoate mass to the popular metaphor of the human body as a machine. These works embody rational parts but their end stage seems far from rational. “Everything is fleeting: flux and balance,crumples” she says. “There’s no stationary solid.”
The individual elements could almost be seen as sacrificial offerings. Just as the most beautiful and healthy animals and plants were sacrificed to the gods, these most perfect of forms are destroyed.
Pelissier clusters accumulation of crumples into shapes constrained by translucent vinyl and has even made some works involving vinyl and zippers that do not include glass at all. At CGCA, she produced crumblesfor a Spring 2008 show scheduled for Quirk Gallery in Richmond, VA.
Her fabric works include a series of mattress pieces relating to dreams and sleep. “Napping is a big thing for me; letting ideas float through my head.” At CGCA, she explored ideas in which reflective, rippling qualities of glass could be combined with parts of a bed to suggest the dreaming state. Some of her prototypes represent the bed almost as a sort of pier rising from the waves in which reflections bounce off mirrored surfaces. “Dreams don’t lie,” Pelissier suggests.