Anne Price-Owen reviews Chris Bird-Jones’ exhibition at Mission Gallery, rydym i gyd yn fregus / we are all fragile, a show demonstrating Bird-Jones’ skillful glasswork through the production of a variety of spoon-like forms.
Entering the peaceful sanctuary of the current exhibition rydym i gyd yn fregus / we are all fragile at Mission Gallery in Swansea, gentle movement and reflected images sparkle around you. Refractions in the bowls of large, glass spoons capture and play with the light. This effect is enhanced by the ambient sound and shifting tones of the projected film that is part of the show, Silver Lined.
Having proved herself a premier artist in glass, the material for which she is best known, Chris Bird-Jones has extended her prowess in this fragile medium. Working with glass is a highly skilled and disciplined craft which, when mastered, yields rewarding results. In her latest exhibition, on show in Mission Gallery, the subject of Bird-Jones’ fascination is the spoon. Gently spiralling in the height of the gallery is a spoon that the artist fashioned several years ago during an artist’s residency in Hawaii. She cut the shape of a spoon out of a silvered sheet, so the object is two-sided, materially the same back and front. When suspended from the ceiling, as it is now, the air currents propel the spoon so that it rotates gracefully above the rest of the exhibits. This particular piece is titled Witness, here, it surveys the whole gallery space and those of us that visit.
Silver is a metal reputed for its healing properties, so the phrase ‘born with a silver spoon in her mouth’ does not signify wealth, but rather health. Lying gracefully along a huge, curved tabletop are Seven Silver Spoons. These are large pieces, like ceremonial trophies. The neck of each spoon is gently reinforced by a decorative band or glass bracelet.
The spoon as a generic object is universal, and its efficacy is widespread. Often perceived as a somewhat humble instrument and one that is generally expected to endure over time, it was designed as an everyday, robust implement. It can be described as a bowl with a built-in handle. However, Bird-Jones subverts the notion of the spoon as a utilitarian item, by elevating it to a neo-celestial object.
The transparent quality of Bird-Jones’ collection of hand-made glass spoons adds to their sense of being otherworldly. It’s easy, therefore, to fancy that the multi-coloured collection of Juicy Spoons that are presented in an arc around the gallery apse are infused with streaks of bright light. With their lively, twisting handles we are duped into thinking they are lightweight, perhaps capable of floating through the air. The contradiction of glass is that it is a heavy material, at once unyielding and yet remarkably fragile. Glass is a mercurial, devious material with extraordinary qualities which tangle with our visual sensations. It is difficult for us to track the beams of light that settle on the Juicy Spoons, light that appears and then disappears when we change our position. We might enjoy this as a trick of the light. Whatever the explanation for this effect, light, refracted and reflected, has a significant presence in this show.
Thus, in Bird-Jones’ hands, the spoon morphs into an object that is delicate and captivating. Much of this is owing to the medium’s transparency, a quality that instils the object with a natural charisma. Being transparent, colours change within the glass as the daylight shifts across the gallery and we, as viewers, move around the objects. The original character of the spoon is subverted and it’s presented here as a precious object. The added quality of light passing through and over the spoons transforms their static nature. They become animated forms, graceful and fragile.
It is incumbent on me to emphasise the secret of excellent glasswork. This artform is one of the most disciplined for any artist to tackle. It demands meticulous, skilled craftmanship and patience. Bird-Jones has that gift.
rydym i gyd yn fregus / we are all fragile by Chris Bird-Jones is showing at Mission Gallery 11 June – 03 July.