Gallery Hong Kong | Autumn 2007
Artists Galia Amsel and Claudia Borella have both made New Zealand their home in recent years. The women were initially attracted for different reasons – Borella was appointed a lecturer at Wanganui/UCOL (New Zealand’s sole dedicated glass institution) while Amsel made the bold move from England based on the lifestyle decisions. In immigrating, both artists have played a significant part in furthering, strengthening and invigorating the development of art glass in New Zealand.
There has been significant development in studio glass in New Zealand in recent years. The local contemporary glass movement owes its strong foundation to the dedication and innovations of an early few. These artists were pioneers in the truest sense, forging new directions and techniques in a country with little tradition of glass-working. The generosity of these artists has been the key in the love affair that New Zealand has with contemporary glass, supporting both the development of new artists and new audiences. It is time however for the New Zealand studio glass movement to take a broader approach. The international perspectives of artists like Amsel and Borella will help New Zealand glass to continue moving forward and avoid the inertia that has dogged the history of other local craft movements.
A sense of internationalism is a characteristic which both of these artists bring to their New Zealand contemporaries. While their work made since moving to New Zealand engages with their new environment, each artist approaches their new context with a degree of objectivity. Associations with structure, mechanics and industry feature in the work of both artists, contrasting with the more organic, figurative and natural aesthetic that is typical of many local practitioners.
Borella, in particular, directly addresses the notion of the international and of journeys in her work. Her first experience with glass came just prior to visiting Italy as part of her industrial design study, and her experiences prompted her continuation of the medium on return to Australia. Since this point international awards, travel, and residencies have marked the stages of her development as an artist, with travel providing the most significant turning points in her practice.
These experiences contribute directly to Borella’s work; her ongoing use of graphic elements is a direct reflection of the artist’s interest in visual language and symbolism, and how these devices can be used as a common form of communication. Her experience of living and working in different countries has placed Borella in a position to consider the cultural context of her art, and increasingly her work has developed a unique ability to reflect her position as both an observer and participant.
By travelling, living and experiencing a wide range of countries and cultures, Borella has increasingly become interested in exploring the common elements of culture and communication in her work. Since her early years as an artist, Borella has had an interest in graphic elements and symbols and their role in communication. As she has travelled and experienced a wide range of different cultures, her interest in symbolism has become increasingly focused on the parallels between these different places and traditions. The form, line and graphic elements of Borella’s work reflect elements of Australian, Italian, Japanese and Pacific traditions, yet they defy classification as typical of any of these countries.
While Borella’s New Zealand work directly reflects an engagement with this country, it resists definition as typically New Zealand art glass. Her most recent series, Waitakere Moon, illustrates this. The first works in this series were produced in the Waitakere Ranges of West Auckland; a dramatic, archetypal New Zealand landscape, invoked by generations of artists as an indicator of place and national identity. Borella addresses this bastion of nationhood objectively, drawing the experience of being within this environment into the context of her practice as an artist. She chooses to look to the moon – arguably the one aspect of the environment which defies classification as ‘typically’ New Zealand. Her kiln-formed glass panels use line, colour, and mathematics to build a sense of the artist’s experience of the passage of the moon over the landscape. While the obvious aesthetic of this series is contemporary and abstract, these works also reflect ideas and experiences of a Pacific nation. Their composition and use of repeating graphic motifs the Waitakere Moon series reflect elements of both Maori and Polynesian decorative and narrative traditions. And in subject they evoke age old traditions of seafarer’s lunar navigation, travel, and the passage of time -bringing Borella’s experience of New Zealand into the wider considerations of her practice as an international artist.
Galia Amsel has taken a somewhat different path on her journey to New Zealand. Whereas Borella’s arrival in New Zealand was a natural progression of the journey of her art career, Amsel’s transition had more to do with the opportunities that New Zealand offered to both her career and her family. Having relied on exporting work for much of her career, Amsel was beginning to consider other locations for her practice that would provide a stronger local market. As well as this, she was looking for a location that would suit raising a young family. A meeting with New Zealand artist Ann Robinson in Britain encouraged Amsel to consider New Zealand, and in 2003 she and her family immigrated to Auckland.
Amsel brought to New Zealand a reputation based on significant international exhibitions, residency, and technical innovation. Relatively unknown to local artists and collectors, the scale, formal and technical resolution of Amsel’s work, and her ongoing exploration of structural form set her work aside from the more typically natural and organic approach of many local artists. Amsel’s explorative approach to glass as a medium has had an immediate impact on local artists. Alternating between raw materials, techniques and surface treatments, her practice has had a flow-through effect on the tight-knit Auckland glass community, broadening understanding of, and approaches to, the possibilities of glass.
When she came out to New Zealand, Amsel had already established a strong signature style which she had been exploring and exhibiting in Britain, Europe and especially as an artist at the Bullseye Connection gallery in America. Her work at this time was focused on abstract sculptural form, drawing from an interest in mechanics, structure and spatial tensions. New Zealand has brought a significant change in Amsel’s work. While maintaining a consistent formal approach, her gaze has increasingly become more outward. Her awareness of the natural world has increased markedly since moving from London, and it is these observations which have been drawn directly into her new works. The patterns and natural rhythms of the local landscape – rain in the dense New Zealand bush, light effects, and the constant movement and colour of the west coast beaches – appear as new colour palettes, surface patterns, and light effects.
This is clearly evident in the West Coast Surf series, which has been in progress since Amsel arrived in New Zealand. The series develop from the dramatic curved form which has been a core element of Amsel’s work. The West Coast Surf works draw directly from the colours and textures of this coastline, incorporating the cold blacks, greys and greens that are well known to those familiar with the landscape. In responding so directly to the landscape, Amsel is not intending to develop a trend towards representation in her work. Instead she is adding the visual language of New Zealand as she has experienced it – light, bush, beach, and weather – to the existing vocabulary of her work.
In their work, Amsel and Borella approach the same places, ideas and influences as other New Zealand artists, bringing new perspectives and experiences which will enrich the local discourse. In considering New Zealand glass in 2007, there is a sense that the movement is at a crossroads. The success and commitment of the senior artists has provided a solid foundation for the next generation. However the opportunities for rigorous education within New Zealand are diminishing as available courses of study decline. As this occurs, the importance of taking a close look at international artists like Amsel and Borella becomes one of the keys to sustaining, challenging and stimulating the growth of the New Zealand contemporary glass movement.
Lucy Hammonds | July 2007
Lucy Hammonds is the Curator of Design at the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery, Napier, New Zealand.
Claudia Borella Claudia Borella is a glass artist whose work combines varying interests in the language of design, architecture and semantics through the method of kiln-formed glass. Her clear and purposeful use of line and colour, the subtlety in her material handling and her powerful sense of design restraint all cause the phrase ‘less is more’ to echo through my mind as Claudia Borel la’s work continues investigate the borders between glass making, design and the ‘universal boundaries of language.’
That Borella is committed to the material of glass is evinced through the strength of the body of work coupled with the awards and recognition she has garnered in the 12 years since graduating from the Australian National University School of Art Glass Workshop. Since completing her degree with First Class Honours, Borella has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards and has had many important working experiences, including, the 1997 Kyhoei Fujita Prize at the Young Glass ’97 exhibition in Ebeltoft, Denmark; the first exchange at the Bullseye Glass Resource Centre in Portland, USA; the Bavarian State Prize/Gold Medal in Talente in Munich; and a residency in Milan working at the European Institute of Design. These successes and experiences have helped Borella generate an approach to her work that is unique and sustaining.
Borella’s work is minimal and graphic in nature reflecting her background in industrial design and her abiding interest in the design field. While clear links to design methodology are evident in the construction of the works, the resultant pieces cannot simply be classified as a fusion of design and glass making discourse. This is an important point, as the realisation of Borella’s work is not through directing questions of design; its method is of crafts and that of the hand made. There is no doubt that Borella creates a compel I ing tension between the boundaries she sets up between design and craft, but more importantly the work shows a deeper understanding of these principals and ultimately defines new ground where she articulates her own territory as a maker. That space that she has defined has produced work that is diverse in form. Her constructions are inspired by the form of the vessel and also include wall mounted works and explorations into function, such as the sushi sets. The range of working platforms and the success of the individual bodies of work underly the intelligence and understanding of Borel la’s practice.
I have watched closely the development of Borella’s work since she graduated under the late Stephen Proctor and Jane Bruce from the Glass Workshop at the School of Art in Canberra. From her graduation body of work she displayed a unique approach and Borella has noted that the teaching culture within the Glass Workshop had a strong influence of this sensitivity to materials and form. The emphasis within the Workshop was, and still is, on developing the individual voice of the student. Borella has continued to develop these themes and her work: her most recent works underlines this unique mix of ideas and processes that has directed her to be one of the more unique voices in the medium of international contemporary glass.
The current head of the Glass Workshop, School of Art, Australian National University