Solange Ledwith Essay
Spring 2010 Fellow
When you look really really closely at surfaces, what lies beneath or within them is motion. Change, movement, transformation — whatever you might call it — characterizes the essence of things. The repeated gestures of change that constitute the passage of time are experienced as permanent and solid. These observations are drawn from the work of Solange Ledwith, a Spring 2010 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America.
Making art is the “only way I can make sense of the world,” says Ledwith. In glass blowing, “I like the rhythm, pattern, sweating; the perfection of glass. I love the airiness, the delicacy of it.” She has perfected the dance-like economy of gesture required to make near identical containers. Her functional designs contrasting generous curves with straight lines and well-defined right angles fuse Scandinavian simplicity with off-hand Venetian glass blowing techniques. Producing them involves a sequence of perfectly internalized movements.
In 2007 Ledwith made a short video that documented this precision. She overlaid three filmed records of herself: (1) blowing glass with an assistant; (2) miming the action of blowing glass without an assistant or glass; (3) miming her motions without glassblowing tools. In the three films, her gestures were so similar, so precise that she had to offset the films in time for the viewer to perceive that three images were superimposed. By calling this film “Lathe,” Ledwith defines the role of the artist as the center point around which work takes shape.
“Muscle memory” just feels right to Ledwith. She is “obsessed with body mechanics and rhythms.” When she gets into the flow of glass making she finds, “I can’t stop. I just go and go. I can’t sleep. Then, I crash.” This feeling is cogently enacted in her video “9 Hour Cup” in which she works a single gather of glass for 9 hours ending up with a smallish cylinder heavily peppered with bubbles.
In some video pieces she places a person in “an impossible environment” of molten glass. In a 2007 event the body of her collaborating performer Alan Iwamura is covered with wet newspapers and then slowly wrapped with threads of hot glass, mimicking the way a glass vessel can be ornamented. As the performance progresses, the fluid glass drapes and drips from Iwamura’s extend arms and around his torso like streams of quickly solidifying honey.The fragile icicle-like threads quickly chill and shatter. The ubiquitous roaring breath of the furnace in the glass studio is an audio element announcing that “something is moving and manifesting the intangible into the tangible.”
Ledwith makes a different representation of shifting realities by projecting film onto many layered suspended leaf-like bits of glass or onto layered sheets of frosted glass. In these pieces she introduces an atmospheric, unpredictable spatial dimension into the viewer’s experience. “The screens themselves have a separate voice from the piece (the film) but they empower it.” Light itself becomes complicit in illusion.
Ultra-thin cellophane glass fascinates Ledwith with its paradoxical un-glasslike flexibility. She used it in the 2006 video “Shed” in which hot glass appears to come out of a bathtub faucet immersing the bather
(see link at the end of the essay). She has also used sheets of cellophane glass to replace most of the cloth in items of clothing that she reduced to a grid of fabric. This engagement with something that seems to be a fixed surface but isn’t is also part of Ledwith;s continuing interest in print materials, their bold assumption of importance is belied by an ultimate ephemerality. In the hot glass video with Iwamura, the day’s “breaking news” is visible in the wet newspapers that protect his body from the heat. Under the slow build up of glass, the camera records the mutability of “facts” that wrap and insulate the self from a dangerously raw experience of time.