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COOLERATOR, 2007


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I answer emails a lot about process and materials and so I have added this page.

I use discarded tempered glass in my work. I beg glass companies for their discards. They are not always willing but sometimes I can get glass they'd otherwise have to pay to have removed. Since it can't be cut to size as it will shatter only, and since a lot of it comes from buildings torn down, also needing to be properly discarded, I sometimes can finagle it.

Tempered glass is created by a method of repeated heating and cooling to ensure that the finished product will shatter and not make big shards which can be dangerous. This is why it is called safety glass and why it is used in the manufacture of car windows. In an accident the glass shatters into tiny bits which are not as sharp as the jagged edges of broken plate glass. Windshields are not made of tempered glass but are made from a double laminated glass which consists of two layers fused together with a layer of heavy duty plastic in between, so that they will not shatter so readily and expose the people in the front seat to impact or harm. Windows in buildings and storefronts are often made of tempered glass, also for safety reasons.

So I scavenge that which is often large sheets of used storefront windows and I use razor blades to remove the glazing and debris. I then use glass stains to create the colors. Glass stains or paints only come in a small number of hues and so I mix most of my own colors. I cover large sheets with blocks of color for whatever project I have envisioned. Since it does not go on smoothly and dries quickly like nail polish, I have many ever-changing methods of applying the stains. If I require even coverage I use glass eyedroppers to lay down strips of color and then use the empty droppers to vacuum up the air bubbles. Sometimes I blow mica powders across the glass to create metallic effects.

Smashing the glass is not easy, as it is created to resist breaking. Tempered glass is made to shatter under certain circumstances of impact and pressure. Car windows are convex and as such, smashing more easily. In my earlier work I foraged in junk yards and paid people to remove the windows from their metal door casing, a laborious undertaking. Now I only use flat glass because car window glass thicknesses vary so much that it is hard to get even surfaces. Storefront window glass is more resistant. I have anxiety before breaking glass. It often defies me. The more I smash glass the harder it is, causing me to ponder whether a certain inexperience and naivete set the tone for a more seamless experience. People often ask if they can watch the smashing. With an audience it is more resistant to being smashed; perhaps I have stage fright or the glass is asserting itself as independent or mischievous. Often I will have a guest smash the glass in which case it will often break on the first or second tap of the hammer implying a sort of beginner’s luck.

I wear safety gloves and goggles to smash glass. I wrap the glass in sheets as it explodes horizontally when smashed. I leave a corner, the most vulnerable part, exposed. I tap that corner at a 45-degree angle. I tap it repeatedly with a certain conservation of force until I feel the release. It makes neither a significant sound nor a palpable contact but rather a simple letting go. It falls away from itself. The feeling is one of falling toward its center and suddenly the sheet in which it is enclosed heaves and relaxes. For the next few hours it is a symphony of slightly crackling sounds as it settles and shifts and is an extremely beautiful sound, most significant for its unique subtlety. The sound is more release and effect than the purposeful sounds associated with breaking plate glass, of which I have had many experiences.

For three days the sound continues with waning frequency. When I unwrap the glass, it is broken yet strangely whole. One can plainly see the consistent and seemingly uniform pattern of fractures yet it tenaciously holds together. It appears to be larger sheets of triangular plates, overlapping each other. Large areas heave above each other creating overlaps like shifting tectonic plates.

I sketch out my pattern on the object. I break off little bits of glass by tapping them with my pliers, choosing areas by color as I go. Geometric patterns require days of measuring and working out the pattern mathematically. Often I use painters’ tape to demarcate pattern lines and boundaries. Sometimes I plot patterns on my computer.

Then begins the obsessive compulsive gluing of tiny pieces to create the overall pattern. Often while gluing I will move my work outside for ventilation. Gluing days can be eight hours days with pliers and gloves. I wear wrist braces to minimize the repetitive motion damage. I wear a respirator for the fumes. Adhesives with archival value are somewhat deadly and I build sculptures to last decades and resist yellowing and this requires a level of adhesive with more sinister physical potential to the respiratory and central nervous systems and so I have learned to navigate my way around material safety data sheets. I use restoration grade adhesives that range from 200 - 300 dollars per 2 or 3 part kit. Such adhesives are often used in museums to repair ming vases and glass sculpture and are optically clear, non-yellowing and have a high tensile strength. I choose my adhesives and customize the mixing of each batch to suit viscosity needs based on the area I am working on. For curved areas I need a faster grab, for flat areas the viscosity needs are determined by whether they are meant for a perimeter or support area or an interior area. If I am working in an area in which I have already created a boundary then I don't require a faster adherence rate as the piece will have the support if its neighbors and will not be as vulnerable to the tendency to slide and thus can be trusted to set in the proper place.

I can't predict when the gluing will be done. At some point I pick up a piece of glass and then after a quick scan I put it down, realizing that I am done. I have never picked up a piece of glass with the knowledge that it is my last piece.

I let the glue dry for a few days for, once I grout it, its oxygen supply is sealed off. I then choose a color for the grout and this is a more instinctual decision. Sometimes I will use concrete stains or additives to customize the grout but because my work often needs some small conservation from being constantly moved from exhibit to exhibit, I shy from custom hues so as to be able to properly match it later. I grout my work in small areas. In the case of the vacuum cleaner I grouted it seven times not because of surface mass but because of the wrinkles and differing topography.

Grouting takes hours for a small area. The trick is to bring the grout high enough as to be somewhat level with the glass yet minimize grout haze on the glass which can require chemicals to remove.

I use friction to polish the surface once dry, using my gloved hands to polish the haze from the glass. Sometimes I will use a sealant to protect the grout.

The entire process, with the exception of the vacuum cleaner on which I used a disk sander for the layers of fiberglass and resin, is done entirely with hand tools. It is rare that I will use power tools of any kind.



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