Curator and artist Richard Torchia is the director of Arcadia Exhibitions (Glenside, PA). In addition to ongoing publishing and writing projects, Torchia has maintained an artistic practice employing the camera obscura as a means to develop site-specific installations. Recent exhibitions include projects at Evergreen House (Johns Hopkins University), Slought Foundation (Philadelphia), Wave Hill (Bronx, New York), and the Center for Discovery (Harris, New York). His work is included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marquee, a permanent public project realized in collaboration with Greenhouse Media (Aaron Igler and Matt Suib), opened in the fall of 2011.
Each time Torchia visited the Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts, he was moved by a certain disdain for the glut of precious items on display there. “The sheer mass of mostly small, fragile objects arouses in me an uncanny desire to smash things.” The project he developed for Emanation 2019 harnesses this “bull-in-a-china-shop” instinct against decorative trinkets made of glass and attempts to transform it into a productive impulse.
Working in close collaboration with Skitch Manion, manager of the WheatonArts glass studio, Torchia has realized a large-scale kaleidoscope that capitalizes on the vast supply of waste glass (cullet) currently being stored out-of-doors in 50-gallon barrels a short walk from the furnace. Small pieces of colored glass have traditionally been the subjects of these hand-held optical toys, patented by Scottish inventor David Brewster in 1817. Recognizing the bounty of Wheaton’s cullet as a material resource for an enlarged version of Brewster’s device, Torchia has placed different combinations of these fragments into four drum-like vessels (each 20 inches in diameter) that will take turns rotating on a machine usually used to activate a “ball mill”, a ceramic container designed to grind cullet into powder for reuse. The four different drums, one of which is filled solely with clear glass, another with two separate object chambers, will be “on rotation”, not unlike the discs in a jukebox. The destruction of the cascading cullet, when seen from within a viewing tube comprised of three self-facing mirrors, is transformed into a field of constantly changing, symmetrical patterns that never repeat.
Built into an existing museum case, the kaleidoscope requires viewing at eye level, a condition that prevents children and the differently abled from peering into the tube. Thus, to share the experience with a broader population, a video camera has been placed within the space of the three mirrors to transmit a live signal of the view to a monitor in a nearby exhibit case. WheatonArts plans to post this live image on its website to make it available to an even larger audience.
One of Torchia’s intentions is to question the easily produced visual pleasure generated by kaleidoscopes and reframe it as an unforeseen by-product witnessed on a detour along the path of the recycling process. The fleeting presence of the evolving patterns—animated by the sounds of the falling glass—also foregrounds his interest in the performative nature of the act of seeing itself. The word kaleidoscope, coined by Brewster, is derived from the Ancient Greek καλός (kilos), “beautiful, beauty”, [“that which is seen: form, shape”] and σκοπέω (skopeō) [“to look to, to examine”]. Hence, the term refers less to an object than to the “observation of beautiful forms.” Torchia will likewise admit to enjoying the bad pun on the word “collide” that this project suggests.
~Julie Courtney, Curator