Experimentation, Risk, and Failure on the Road to Glass Art Innovation

Artists Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack experiment with new glass techniques at Pittsburgh Glass Center

As an audience, when we look at art in a gallery, we tend to spend most of our time looking at the work rather than thinking about the process or the trial and error that went into making the work. From the artists’ perspective, the process and experimenting is what takes the most time. There are always successes and failures when the artists create new work and both success and failure lead to new opportunities, discoveries and inspiration. Solving problems, making adjustments, and moving forward are important steps in the artmaking process that lead to innovative new artwork.

Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack are two artists based in Baltimore who have been working collaboratively at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) for over 10 years. They started with glass and metal works and continued to explore and experiment with different materials and techniques. For the new exhibition “Silica Valley” that opened on March 6, they worked on a series of tableau sculptures called “Invasive Ecologies” depicting intricately drawn invasive plants as they intertwine over human-made objects to visually address climate migrants in the context of our changing contemporary landscape. Jenn and Matthew incorporated new technologies and strategies to construct a narrative composition made up of delicate, lacy forms with gestural movement. The forms were waterjet cut from Bullseye sheet glass and then free sculpted in the hot shop, a technique that has never been previously documented. The project is technically challenging and pushes the possibilities of what can be achieved with delicately cut glass without losing detail when heated.

“It’s a huge experiment for us. We’re taking extreme risks with the material,” Jenn said.

 Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack residency at Pittsburgh Glass CenterJenn and Matthew worked on this project for a couple of months. During their residency at PGC, they encountered successes such as figuring out the context of their work, but they also experienced failures with some of their technical experiments. Challenges pop up frequently when artists create new work. On one hand, they frustrated Jenn and Matthew; however, on the other hand, they inspired them and gave them opportunities to solve problems that no one ever had attempted.

Matthew said, “Failure is important, and it’s an intrinsic part of artistic growth. If we don’t allow ourselves to fail, we won’t experience success.” After working on this project for months, Jenn and Matthew decided to allow themselves a break and come back to work on this series after the summer. They decided to display other equally enticing work they made at Pittsburgh Glass Center in the Silica Valley exhibition that will give you a good understanding of their process and intention to develop installations and objects with glass and light that are expressions of our complex relationship with our environment. Stay tuned to hear more about “Invasive Ecologies” in the future.

Curated by John Sharvin, “Silica Valley” features a variety of artwork from 9 artists from the US and UK that explore the interplay between technology and human creativity. By looking at the work in this exhibition and hearing from different artists, you will see how they bring their own creative and critical thoughts to solve problems and face challenges while using new technology and making innovative artwork.

By Clara Wang, Pittsburgh Glass Center Intern

Silica Valley opened March 6, 2020. Images of the exhibition and supporting educational materials are now viewable online due to the closure of the Pittsburgh Glass Center facility during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Learn more about Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack at www.mccormackandfigg.com