Marie Repten Essay
Spring 2009 Fellow
Alice in Wonderland,‖ a tale whose fantastical conceits and mingling of the marvelous and sinister has inspired many artists, was an ambitious theme for Marie Repten in her Spring, 2009 residency as a Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America. It could be said that Repten, herself, has traveled through the ―Looking Glass‖ of the most rigorous production disciplines to emerge transformed into an independent original artist and manipulator of glass.
Working with glass demands unfakeable skills. Glass artists vary in their accomplishments but many use their training to produce functional or decorative objects as a marketable sideline. Repten distinguishes herself from the crowd in the level of her technique and training. She has mastered the processes demanded by one of the most elite glass production entities in the world, Kosta Boda. Following a year of design school, Repten attended the Kosta Boda glass school in Sweden for two years, during which she learned to work with blow molds and to work as part of a team. Kosta Boda’s products are hand crafted and as identical as possible. Workers may not introduce a personal slant or variation. This type of perfection means subsuming the self – at least for the moment — into another’s vision.
It was a rigorous, hands-on training. ―No lectures, nothing about concepts, nothing intellectual,‖ she says. She enjoyed this in many ways, ―especially the team dynamics and faster process‖ (faster than ceramics which was her first area). ―I like making production pieces. I like the idea of making a living out of what I do,‖ she says. But she also discovered that she had ideas of her own and a drive to express them.
Sweden and Denmark (Marie’s native country) define and understand craft disciplines in a specific way unfamiliar to North Americans. Designers there are not makers and crafts workers have a higher status than they do in the US. Both areas are distinct from Fine Arts in training. It is not possible to study glass and fine arts at the same time, department, or school. It is difficult to qualify for fine arts training with a glass-making background; however, Repten, drawn to things that are ―of the mind,‖ earned an MA from the Royal College of Art in London and has studied in other parts of the world.
She still makes some production work, but with the twist that each piece incorporates an element of chance, thus rebelling against the consistency of Kosta Boda. She blew tumblers into newspaper. Then she began to experiment with melting, sagging glass vessels, ones that had clearly once been perfectly symmetrical. Some are surfaced with floral or lace decals that give them the look of fine china. Then she began to envision the current economic state of the world as literally reflected in gold and silver surfaced glass.
―I am from a socialist country, a very safe country and suddenly all these people, friends of my parents, have lost money.‖ The collapse of the economy in Iceland and the ―Young men who don’t know what they will be doing‖ to earn a living, was a dismaying lesson in irresponsibility and greed.
―Some of my work can be seen as small narratives,‖ Repten says. Her series ―I Hope You Had Fun,‖ gold- and silver-surfaced ―squashed‖ bottles that have been frozen in a state of melting, was ―provoked by these guys in Gucci sunglasses riding high on four-wheelers.‖
In spite of commitments to supply other work to shows around the country, at CGCA, she utilized mirror surfaces in constructing a specific not-so-small narrative based on ―Alice in Wonderland.‖ Repten has ―identified with (the story) for a long time.‖ Preparing for her work, she says, ―I’ve been reading the story over and over. It’s not just a fairytale. It has layers and layers.‖ She presented the large installation in the gallery area adjacent to the studios. It included a number of mirror-surfaced vessels and rather modular objects that reflect one another. Oversize blown glass droplets were suspended on transparent line. The artist adjusted and regrouped the elements sometimes several times a day. The effect, light-filled and mysterious was dreamlike. ―The whole story,‖ she says, ―is like a big illusion.‖