The brief video documenting a performance piece opens with a bleached-looking image of artist Kim Harty. The camera shoots through a pane of clear glass as Harty winds up like a pitcher and hurls some sort of missile, perhaps a stone. It strikes glass with an impressive crash and clatter, a multi-layered cacophony that is repeated insistently with the repetition of the image of Harty’s open-handed, exaggeratedly forceful pitch.
Another sequence of breaking glass is enacted in a darkened setting. We recognize the targets as suspended panes of glass, once rectangular; now broken and askew, sluggishly revolving and flashing vertical bands of reflected light. Momentarily—so briefly that we might miss it — we observe pictures of the artist that are projected onto the glass: she is destroying her own image violently, fracturing it and violating the regularity of the culturally “correct” (self) portrait format.
As with any interesting work of art, there are so many ways to interpret the one minute, thirty-eight second video. Glass is the target. Is it about glass or the role of glass in the artist’s life? My guess is no. My guess is that the glass, in part, represents a barrier, perhaps a frustratingly almost invisible barrier to communication or, perhaps, understanding. The frontal images of throwing, some projected silently, capture a slapping gesture, seemingly directed at us (viewers) who look through the clear (invisible) glass, perhaps puzzled, perhaps congenitally unable to comprehend Harty’s message.
But do we, the viewers, stand in for the artist herself, the initial and ultimate viewer of her own work? Certainly, the narrative, such as it is, seems to construct and deconstruct identity in a cultural context. The duality in interweaving light and dark settings (the self and the shadow self?) can be related to the whole and modified, broken, pieces of glass: projections and reflections, creation and destruction, love and hate, all fragile and woven into a single fabric.
During her Winter 2008 residency at the Creative Glass Center of America, Kim Harty worked with a video of an interview with her father, that has many of these same qualities. We hear an audio track of him talking about the house he grew up in. Kim looks at a reflection of herself in a mirror and scratches the mirroring surface away so that viewers will ultimately find that a video of her father, as he speaks, replaces hers.
Harty is interested in processes revealed through performance and recorded in more static objects. At CGCA she constructed groups of conjoined asymmetrical blown glass vessels, which relate to the human body. The slumping together of hot glass is far from the perfection of the functional object. It records the first of what Harty calls “the two lives” of the object,” the performance of blowing glass. The second life, the cooled vessels, could be interesting unusual vases, but that functional possibility isn’t the idea. A kind of organic malleability and fragility is.
“I use the hot shop as a place to explore making things. It is an alternative show space,” Harty says. It’s true: glass artists often see astonishing and beautiful events not witnessed by the public. A good example is Harty’s “Hug Pieces.” She blows a large, thin walled vessel, then, girded in a protective silver suit and gloves, she violates perhaps the most deeply internalized taboo of glass blowing: “Never touch hot glass (unless you have to and then be very, very careful)!” She gently embraces the soft yielding shape. This gesture imprinted on the living vessel embodies a moment of visceral communication. Harty plans to treat the cooled, sandblasted, semi-figurative objects almost like torsos and to display them with flashing lights inside.
A series of windows composed of slumped, damaged panes, made before CGCA, again illustrates her interest in glass as a communicative medium. At CGCA, she made a cursive alphabet, again using the glass freely in a non-traditional almost taboo way.
Harty’s already developing performance “SynchroBlow,” became a climactic act in the Cirque de Verre, a performance developed by three Fellows: Charlotte Potter, Rika Hawes and Harty. They enlisted the contributions of other WheatonArts glass blowers in planning the entire evening of entertainment.
The crowd-pleasing “” warmed up the audience. “” daringly spun hot glass from an elevated platform onto the floor of the studio. Harty herself lifting weights made of huge disks of hot glass constructed on the floor.
Harty and co-Fellow Charlotte Potter dueled with hot glass in the comedic “,” while the “Two Headed Glass Blower” (Rika Hawes and Josh Kerner) attempted to coordinate two arms, two brains, and three legs.
In Harty’s “,” a troupe of glassblowers gather and blow glass in unison — surprising and surprisingly difficult because performing in unison limits the degree to which each glassblower can respond to the specific gather of glass she’s made. Harty conceived of this performance as a record of the student glass blower who “tries to imitate every move of the maestro.” The silhouetted alien-looking glass blowers with lights along their arms in a darkened hot shop made a memorable performance.