Maria Sparre-Petersen Essay
Danish-born Maria Sparre-Petersen wants her art to become ” a conversation between me and complete strangers.” During her Fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America, she made one large interactive glass installation and developed components for future projects.
Mirrors of the Soul (1999) is typical of her work in the way it incorporated time and the human factor. Sparre-Peterson acquired a number of intact old windows in wooden frames which had been discarded by a firm specializing in replacement storm windows. She arranged the windows in a continuous surface on the floor of her New York City studio and invited people to walk through the space. Although she had not suggested it, the visitors all chose to balance on the wooden frames of the windows leaving the panes intact.
Documenting the different stages of the project with photographs, Sparre-Petersen then removed the frames from the panes and placed them on the floor of the studio. Now when people walked through her studio, they were forced to step on the glass and break it. The final stage of the project involved carefully removing the shards of broken glass and re-heating them. The raw broken edges were softened but the devitrified glass lost some of its crisp translucence–a natural process which also occurs as glass ages over many (even hundreds of) years. Replaced on the floor, where they had once reflected the walls of studio windows in unbroken surfaces, and later as angular shards, the “healed” fragments had a softened, scar-like aspect, but a new completeness.
In a collaborative performance involving social roles and expectations, Shared Space (1999) Sparre-Petersen and Jeffrey Sarmiento sat for two hour intervals enclosed in individual cubes of glass connected by an arching tube. A former cultural anthropologist, who is also trained as a designer, Sparre-Petersen’s keen interest in human behavior is reflected in all her work, but perhaps her years as a professional sailor on tall ships (a job she sought in order to see the world “not as a tourist”) also contributed to the project Message in a Bottle (2000). Sparre-Petersen enclosed messages requesting a reply in 32 blown glass bottles. The recipients of the messages would be asked to participate in an art exhibition.
Sparre-Petersen received several replies and was pleased that three resulted in “fairly intimate” acquaintance with the recipients. “One person reported finding the bottle to the police.” When a sergeant telephoned and left a message on Sparre-Petersen’s answering machine, “I was so scared,” she remembers; however, when she explained the concept of the show to him and invited him to come, “He was really psyched.” Unfortunately, he could not participate, because the person who found the bottle had not given him the message.
One goal for Sparre-Petersen’s CGCA residency was to improve her glass-blowing skills. Some of this “practice” is devoted to a second “message in a bottle” project called Opposites Attract. Sparre-Petersen initially thought of the idea because she herself was attracted to her “opposite,” an African American man, her husband Justin. Sparre-Peterson has made a total of eight “opposite” pairs as bottles including: skinny/fat; all neck/all body; tall/short; little/big; and square/round. The messages intended for these bottles will invite the finders to come to the show and “meet your opposite. ” From her earlier bottle project, Sparre-Petersen knows that a finder’s opposite is very likely to not to contact her or to appear at the show, but at least anyone who finds a bottle will know “there’s someone out there that has their match. It’s about that tiny little seed of hope. . . .” She likes this type of project partly because allows her to be a catalyst but not part of the completed work: “I’m trying to be completely out of the picture.”
Also, at CGCA, she’s made a number of large bowls, “my own form. I just love bowls. I think its the female, container thing. The bowl is open and inviting. These are layered with color and carved with the sandblaster. In a related project, she plans to record the process of working with hot glass on a wet canvas stretched over plywood. She will drip Jackson Pollock-like trails of molten glass onto the canvas. The burn-marks will be the completed work.
Early in her residency, Sparre-Petersen made a large outdoor installation near Wheaton Village. She carefully inserted rows and clusters of tall of glass rods delineating the perimeters of puddles of water in a field where she likes to walk. Wind and soft damp ground caused the rods to lean like stalks of some oddly translucent, glittering weed. Puddles Elevated ostensibly helped the artist avoid getting her feet wet; however, at least part of the purpose was to place non-traditional art in a new environment–to provoke an unmediated response . “In a gallery space, people come in with expectations. They say, “‘That’s really fabulous,’ but it isn’t a dialogue. Here they are surprised in a positive way and you get a dialogue. It’s more connected to real life.”