Thomas Medicus on the material metamorphosis of glass

Austrian artist Thomas Medicus talks about his art practice and working with glass to create sculptural illustrative installations.

by Girinandini SinghPublished on : Mar 27, 2021

The creative processes of Austrian artist, Thomas Medicus, are rooted in the natural world and in the realm of a material-based metamorphosis; it is principally for his anamorphic works that he has gained much acclaim worldwide. Medicus trained in glass art as a young artist, roughly around 23 years of age, during this early stage of his career his work primarily focused on paintings and illustrations and the skillset he picked up working with glass merged easily with the more traditional mediums he was comfortable working with. He went on to build a steady foundation on the varied methods and techniques of creating and conceptualising through the onerous medium of glass. As he continued on what were his glass-based experiments, he began to little-by-little incorporate the medium in his art practice, his creative processes, and his ideation. “I think this (the education in glass art) is probably where the initial concept of the anamorphic cubes comes from, since they are a combination of two-dimensional paintings and three-dimensional glass art. I have always been fascinated with perception in the context of the readings of an artwork, with optical illusions and also to some extent with epistemology. Therefore, for me, art has always had a strong visual and experiential focus,” says Medicus on the evolution of his art practice. 

Fossil Farming | Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
Fossil Farming Image: Thomas Medicus

Thematically, Medicus’ work remains fluid. He moves with an unpracticed ease between mediums and materials, exploring conceptual opposites; and more recently he has been working within the dynamic domain of the public space. His body of work, which is visualised or specifically commissioned for the public space, is contextualised by the sensorial exchange in arts engagement within the public realm. His sculptures and installations are not for a passive viewing and appreciation, rather they draw in the audience, providing a distinct vertical of interaction. These works can often veer towards a powerful and persuasive social critique. It is not just that Medicus recognises the importance of art in social commentary, rather that he strives to enhance its social function via his creative output. There is, in fact, an unmistakable aspect of the illusionary and the unpredictable in Medicus’ installations and sculptures which challenge one’s reception of the world, the way we perceive it and understand it. 

  • 01 min watch What It Is Like to Be by Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
    What It Is Like to Be Video: Thomas Medicus
  • Nehmen Sie Platz! by Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
    Nehmen Sie Platz! Image: Thomas Medicus

This is perhaps most evident in the anamorphic sculpture What It Is Like to Be, which is made of 144 painted strips of glass, revealing new images as they slowly turn in place. Each of the glass strips have been hand-painted and separated from one another, so as to reveal new formations rendering new readings each time they turn at a 90-degree angle. As one formation moves to the next, in what is the interim moment, the audience is left considering the potential of the picture which will unveil before them, as though piecing together a puzzle, bit-by-bit. Speaking on the illusions in his work, Medicus says, “Glass or any transparent material for that matter, only emerges once it is touched by light. They do not have a determined surface. I think I am fascinated by this disembodied state of the material. For a long time, art and science felt like a contradiction to me, two worlds which were completely incompatible. I come from a natural sciences background, and in the early stages of my career art was a way for me to leave a determined imprint on the world, not some vague disembodied impression. When I created my anamorphic cubes some years back this sense of contradiction began to dissolve”.

Crystallis by Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
Crystallis by Austrian artist Thomas Medicus Image: Thomas Medicus

One commonality which pulls together the majority of Medicus’ body of work is his approach to creation as a materialisation of ideas; it is positively an uncharacteristic and rational approach to the process of making, especially for an artist who is pre-occupied with the nature of the disembodied and the liminal. And yet it is a necessity, something that the artist says is required “when working with glass”. Despite this linear process of conceptualisation ideas in general for Medicus emerge with a degree of unintentionally, like the ‘irrational manifestations of the subconscious’. His work Crystallis, for instance, is a series of tessellated glass pieces which come together to form the structural minimalism of a pupae that is in the advanced stage of transformation, perhaps only a moment before its release from the sanctuary that is the cocoon. There lies at the heart of this work a strong metaphor of change, evolution, and the growing pains of making one’s way through it all. Yet, the work itself comes across as constructed and put together with the opposing mediums of glass and natural materials. It is almost as though it is exaggerating its artificiality, if only to comment on the intentional in the evolutionary process over the organic and the inevitable. “I am intrigued by the biological processes of the natural world,” says the artist, “my influences are a mixture of biographical and personal factors as much as it is the world around me. Art seems to me the ideal method to make subjective experiences accessible to others and therefore create in turn an inter-subjective moment”.

Expo 2020 Behind the Scenes | Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
EXPO 2020 Behind the Scenes Image: Thomas Medicus

Medicus’ recent installation for the EXPO 2020 Metro Station in Dubai was a scaled anamorphic cube, where because of the sheer immensity of its size, he used image fragments made from “mouth-blown coloured and hand-painted glass”. These glass pieces needed to be painted individually before they were fixed in place together, all 1000 of them. The end result is a beautiful and lasting sculpture of metamorphosis, which rotates in place taking creatures of the natural world apart and then putting them back together in new formations. Another increasingly urgent upcoming project is conceptualised around the biodiversity crisis at Innsbruck and is another anamorphic cube which will show four different endangered species disassembling and reassembling in a sort of merging with one another. It is envisioned to encourage a dialogue on the ephemeral nature of the physical world, of our ecosystems, and the varied roles we are playing in tearing apart and reassembling these environments. 

The installation at EXPO 2020 metro station in Dubai | Thomas Medicus | STIRworld
The installation at EXPO 2020 metro station in Dubai Image: Thomas Medicus

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