Light is the common denominator. This is true of the two cities known as “beauties on the water,” Venice and Stockholm. It’s also true of the pieces presented by Laura de Santillana in her first solo exhibition in Sweden, here in Stockholm, in the Nordic light – In This Light. The exhibition features works in glass that were painstakingly packed up and transported from Venice, Laura de Santillana’s birthplace and home, though she works internationally. Her glass is blown not only in Murano (in Venice), but also in the Czech Republic and Seattle. Her work is represented at museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and she has had solo exhibitions in around 30 cities in Europe, the US and Japan. Just about everywhere – except for Stockholm.
All of these pieces have a changing nature, depending on the season, time of day, and light in the room. And now the thrill is in the anticipation of seeing how the pieces will be experienced in the Nordic light of Stockholm, In This Light.
The exhibition includes six themes from Laura de Santillana’s artistry during 2009–2018 – and several pieces were made specifically for the exhibition at Galleri Glas.
The first theme – Sleeves
There is something noble about the cylindrical pieces, which Laura calls “Sleeves,” and which were made in the Czech Republic. The cylinders are nested within each other and interact to produce light effects. The glass refracts, breaks and reflects the light. “I read the journals of Japanese courtesans from the Heian period, around the year 1000. The texts had a poetic, scaled-down language and they were about the courtesans’ ceremonies, daily lives and costumes. They used to wear 10–20 kimonos one over the other, in colors associated with the moon, cherry blossoms, autumn leaves and chrysanthemums. Even when the glass is colorless, it’s the sleeves of those kimonos I’m thinking of.”
The second theme – Buddha heads
Northwest Paris is home to a museum called Le Musée Cernuschi Musée des Arts de l'Asie de la ville de Paris, where Laura de Santillana saw an exhibit about Chinese Buddha heads. During the Cultural Revolution in China, all religious objects and pictures of gods were destroyed, but people didn’t dare to break the heads of the sculptures as they were containers of thoughts – so they buried them. Since 2009, Laura de Santillana has regularly created these Buddha heads.
The third theme – Melting in Czech Republic
The books were born as an experiment. When Laura told the glassblowers she wanted to compress and close the vessels, they were surprised, since it’s the very opposite of what you would normally do. “They knew it would be a difficult process technically, but gradually they became curious,” Laura recalls.
“I began on a small scale with a drinking glass and continued with 30 cm high objects that were also melted down. That worked, but when I tripled the scale, it didn’t. I was going crazy and it took me almost a year to figure it out. It was a year of surprises and failures and the result is these flying, paper thin shapes.”
The fourth theme – Melting in Seattle
“After a while, I decided to work on a larger scale. I wanted twice the size and knew that in addition to technical aspects, like a bigger glory-hole, I needed a more open approach. Different factories have different mentalities, and the US is, in a way, a bit opposite to Europe. We strive for perfection here, while they’re more after improvisation. On the first trip in 2009, everything went perfectly. But the next time, two years later, was a catastrophe. Everything failed. It was frustrating and expensive. The process requires up to ten glassblowers working together, it takes very long time and I had to make my own tools. I call the few works that made it ‘the Survivors of 2011.’ After this second journey things have worked out fine, but every time we succeed it feels like a miracle.”
The fifth theme – The pieces in Octavo
Franz Kafka’s notes from late 1917 to June 1919 were published under the title The Blue Octavo Notebooks – and the fifth theme is named after them. The pieces were dark blue, almost black, but the white opaline powder made the edges shift hues, like clouds against a blue sky as the light fades. “While driving home from the glass studio south of Prague, the sky was twilight blue. I was staying in Prague that night and before I fell asleep, I read Kafka’s blue notebooks. I wanted to capture that shade of blue and the thoughts I had while reading Kafka, after several weeks of production in Bohemia.”
The sixth theme – colors from Stockholm
And finally: the newly created pieces that are inspired by a trip to Stockholm in October 2017, when the decision was made to have the exhibition In This Light. It was a “vibrating moment” and Laura de Santillana saw narcissus yellow and pink before her. They were the colors of the coming spring in Stockholm, and now it is here at last.
Stockholm in April 2018.