by Manu SharmaAug 10, 2022
Glass art, art made of glass, and the art of glassmaking are distinct approaches to working with this specific material. Glass is also a notoriously difficult material to work with. However, it is also one of the most versatile. It is in the sophistication of this versatility that a Berlin-based artist duo, Jeschkelanger, find their voice. Set up in 2016, the duo’s name is a portmanteau of their last names, Marie Jeschke and Anja Langer. Their interest in working with glass is best summarised in their own words, “Glass is the material of the 21st century for us, we cannot escape it. We humans touch it hundreds of times every day, by touching our smartphones and computer screens, and it is also omnipresent in architecture”.
Glass, most notably, is a non-biodegradable substance, yet, due to its nature, it is one that can be easily reused. The duo further express their interest in the material saying, “What is exciting for us is that very few people consciously perceive glass, the human gaze always passes through this material. It is a material that protects and can cause massive injuries, its smooth surface wants to be stroked and yet it is the source of the danger. Glass both protects and presents”. And Jeschkelanger is very familiar with the dangers of the material; during their initial years of working with glass, the duo experimented with glass through a series of physical engagements, and trial and error. But this led to a very intimate understanding of glass not only as a surface but as a three-dimensional artifact, an understanding that is further supported by technical knowledge. “After the first year of research with glass we got in contact with specialists and craftsmen, those were research-intensive years. Today our workshops are equipped with many tools for working with glass," mentions the duo.
Jeschkelanger’s latest experiment ventures into the world of interior design and décor. It takes the act of reuse a step further. Basis Rho is a composite material with a wide range of applications and exists in a rather curious space of limbo between art and décor. Jeschkelanger has been working tirelessly on re-imagining an interior material that has been around for centuries. Taking leftover or seemingly imperfect pieces of glass from large-scale art installations, architectural projects, and manufacturers in Germany, the artists embed these pieces in a pigmented cement mixture to create unique tiles. Conceived as a work of art, and handmade in Berlin, each tile is created as an individual composition. The glass waste is a ‘found object’, and by selecting a particular piece and placing it in their composition, the piece is now a shard, each one strategically placed to look effortless. Each tile is then part of a larger composition, one that manifests as a table-top, a vase, or even a wall fitting. As a wall, the translucency of the shards contrasted with the solidity of the cement further amplifies Basis Rho’s position between art and décor. The confetti-like appearance of their current editions, Dotty Black and Soft Grape, reveals the irregular forms of their found shards. At the same time, the integrity of the composition and colouration of the shards are indicative of Jeschkelanger’s understanding and research of glass as a building material. Each tile is the result of a thoughtful contemplation. Much like a painter who considers each brush stroke, Anja and Marie consider the form, colour and position of every shard before cementing them in place.
In order to decipher the aesthetics behind Basis Rho, it is important to understand the philosophy behind Jeschkelanger’s research and exploration of what they conceived as the ‘contact zone’. The idea evolved from a moment in 2016 when Anja and Marie collaborated as independent artists at DISPLAY Gallery, Berlin. The term was coined by Swiss curator Marie DuPasquier as a way to elucidate their process. Jeschkelanger elaborates, “Showing two singular positions seemed too easy for us and so we decided to create new work together. Without logical derivation, we decided to use glass tabletops. In the beginning, there were only two of us - the smallest cell of a 'Contact Zone'.” This dialogue imprinted on glass soon expanded to include artists, performers, chefs, dancers, curators and found a presence in a series titled empty_glass, an interdisciplinary project created in collaboration with chef Hayk Seirig from Germany and Indian curator Priyansha Jain. The series consists of a multi-course menu, served directly on glass, in an overlapping fashion. The remnants of the meal remain on the glass, and were the starting point for what the duo calls their “theory for new models of shared authorship aesthetics”.
It is the idea of shared authorship that connects Jeschkelanger’s empty_glass and Basis Rho. While the duo orients the glass and cements it into useable modules, they are not the ones who create the shards, the author or creator of those pieces is someone else. They elaborate, “In both works, there is an inherent longing to explore a collective aesthetic through the use of remnants, waste, and traces to turn the invisible into an equal present. The cycle of thought also plays a huge role here.” Each tile is a manifestation of the contact zone, between Anja, Marie, previous project or manufacturer of the shards and ultimately the end-user.
Stained glass paintings are not always just paintings, they are intricately constructed and technically difficult works of art that utilise coloured glass and innate knowledge of how the material works. With Basis Rho, Jeschkelanger has created an interesting new design material, using technical knowledge and a rigorous design strategy. Creating a new step in the lifecycle of glass, Jeschkelanger addresses the ecological and sustainable impact of the solid material. Addressing the dual value of Basis Rho - as an art object and a design material - the duo concludes by saying, “Glass does not simply exist in the art market like canvas or clay. It is functional at first and only becomes an artistic material with our processing and contextual embedding. Glass lies exactly between the two poles of art and application, the delicate dividing line that glass opens up begins and ends with the viewer and the user”.