Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Q & A With Laurel Kohut: Treasures opens 19 January - 19 February

Glass artist and JamFactory alumnus Laurel Kohut investigates how we form relationships with objects, in particular jewellery and its intimate and symbolic nature. Kohut re-creates aesthetic forms of jewellery in glass to explore their varied emotional significance.

Tell us about yourself, how did you become a glass artist?

I fell into glassblowing when I was 17. I had wanted to do something creative at university after completing high school and applied for a lot of different courses – mainly drawing and painting, but also the applied arts course at Monash University majoring in glass.

I ended up falling in love with glassblowing and for many years became quite driven to refine my technical skills of producing glass objects. I love blowing glass because it is a challenging physical experience, but the material itself is also very captivating for me. People respond to it in many different ways – often people can’t help touching glass; or they are afraid to touch it. It is at once beautiful and seductive but also fragile and dangerous.

I am not sure I can classify myself purely as an artist, or a glassblower, or a designer-maker. I feel like a combination of all three as I enjoy making a vase just as much as I enjoy making a sculptural object or installation. To me production objects (such as bowls and vases) are not only an important way to learn skills and make a living, but they are also important objects within themselves. These objects make their way into the world and into homes and may (or may not) end up forming intimate relationships with their owner as treasured belongings.

Which craftspeople, writers, artists, musicians, anyone do you find particularly inspiring and how have they influenced your approach to making?

During my research for this body of work I came across the book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes”, by English ceramicist Edmund De Waal. Written about sentimental objects (heirlooms) it describes the journey of the 264 netsuke* as they passed through 3 generations of his family. As it was written from the perspective of an object maker it struck a chord with my ideas and made me think about the importance of the objects we surround ourselves with everyday.

*Netsuke are Japanese figurines used to hold fast the toggle strings on a purse designed to attach to a kimono. They are miniature works of art, often hand carved out of different materials.

Are there any specific quotes, ideas, places that influence this current body of work?

'My job is to make things, and how objects get handled, used and handed on is not just a mildly interesting question for me, it is my question.’
Edmund De Waal.

For this body of work I have been thinking about the kinds of objects that people get attached too. These could be objects that have personal associations such as heirlooms, love tokens, and mementos. Or they might reassure, comfort, or provide an ego boost. I am intrigued by the way people invest various emotions within objects. I feel that jewellery items are very personal types of objects and ones that are given value not only for material worth but also for sentimental significance. I wanted to look at jewellery in a different way – scaling up the objects so that the viewer could at once recognise the form but also associate with it as a signifier. In this way I hope they will ponder on the nature of their own precious objects.

Are there any specific collections, museums that you have found inspiring and why?

I love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. They have collections of the most amazing objects. Each object is treated as a work of art - from fashion, to glass, to keys and toys!

Welcome us to your studio - where is it?

Since completing my Masters Degree at Monash University late last year, I have been lucky enough to find a space in Nick Wirdnam’s studio. Located in an industrial area of Cheltenham (a bayside Melbourne suburb) I use it to grind and finish my pieces after they are made in the hot shop. Next door to us is Holly Grace’s studio and we often visit each other.

I blow glass at Maureen William’s hot shop in St Kilda, and also work as an assistant to Nick and Maureen there. It has been great having them as mentors.

The work for the exhibition: Can you describe the specific themes reflected in this body of work?

As I have mentioned above, the general concepts around the work are based on my interest of how people relate to and form attachment with objects. Specifically, the crowns in this exhibition reflect of our need for self-esteem and status among our peers. I believe objects play a major role in achieving a desired status in society.
The rings are more personal and sentimental objects. They signify our need for love and relationships and in this body of work become a symbol for those things we give to others as keepsakes, heirlooms or love tokens.
The earrings are also partly about love – but more about those dear to us that leave our lives. Mementos of friends or lovers departed become extremely precious to those that will miss them. Traditionally earrings are supposed to come in pairs, and to me this references the desire permeates popular culture, that people are also ‘designed’ to be in pairs and long to find a perfect partner who will ‘complete’ them. When an earring is lost one frantically searches for it before giving up in frustration or despair. There is a mourning period as one wonders what to do with the earring that is left. To me this mimics the despair of losing a loved one. Many people will hold on to objects that remind us of those we have lost.

Describe your method of production in this current work?

Most of the work is blown or sculpted in the hot glass studio. I make various shapes or components and then take them into the coldshop and spend many long days cutting, grinding, polishing and gluing. The pieces of glass I make in the hotshop undergo a vast transformation in the coldworking studio. In this way I can create shapes and forms that otherwise would be very difficult to attain.

Laurel Kohut's exhibition Treasures is showing in JamFactory's
CollectorSpace 19 January - 19 February