Tom Moore and that Pyrotechnic puffer fish

studio portrait

It was Tom Moore’s meticulous attention to detail and execution of a unique concept that captured the attention and votes of the Tom Malone Prize judges this year. We talk to Tom Moore about his award-winning piece the Pyrotechnic puffer fish and the challenges facing glass artistry.

Tell us how you came to the idea of the Pyrotechnic puffer fish?

puffer cup

I have been researching how the wider cultural context of Renaissance Italy influenced the kinds of glass objects that were produced and the social functions and meanings of these objects.

During the 16th-century, objects displaying the fine network of white glass lines such as in these goblet-bowls were thought to be imbued with miraculous properties and were collected in cabinets of curiosity alongside specimens of unicorn horn and pufferfish. I saw one of these pufferfish in a Museum in Florence and could not get it out of my head. It seemed weirdly aware of its placement in the collection. This species has an extremely satisfying form to translate and inflate as hot glass.

Renaissance glassmakers were closely aligned with alchemists. The transformation of sand and plant-ash into glass through the intense heat of the furnace was regarded as a marvellous demonstration of human ingenuity and virtuous artifice. The burning match is intended as a reminder of the pyrotechnic nature of this material.  The absurd drinking vessel in the form of a bent funnel refers to laboratory apparatus and to a rich tradition of trick-glasses that were surprising to look at and intentionally difficult to use. The position of the pufferfish as oversized stems adds to the joke.

It’s a very detailed and beautiful piece of work. How long from conception to completion did this project take and were there any challenges along the way?

It is difficult to calculate the amount of time taken to complete complex objects such as these because there are several processes involved over several weeks. Designing the work and preparing all the parts takes many hours. I complete a full-scale drawing that is meticulously planned.  Coloured and clear glass is combined and stretched to make patterned rods. These are used to create the fine patterned lines within the blown forms, and all the small parts: eyes, fins, teeth, match and flame. The final forming of the parts requires an assistant. All in all these works took approximately 30 hours including the assistant.

There is a certain amount of risk involved in working on forms for such prolonged periods. The glass must be re-heated every couple of minutes or it will crack, but it must not be over-heated or it will melt. It is attached to metal rods while it is being worked and these must be kept turning.

Bending the funnel is a risky moment. After focussing heat on the long skinny neck it becomes difficult to control and after bending it is off-centred which makes the constant turning awkward. Putting the dentures into the fishes mouths is a fussy step and I only get one shot to stick them in the right place.

You’ve taken on the challenge of achieving a carbon neutral art practise. Tell us a bit more about this and is it something that glass artists should be using?

As a contemporary artist who has the privilege of continuing to practice a traditional pyrotechnic craft, I feel compelled to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation.

 

Tom Moore blowing glassI know that there is an inherent contradiction in making objects that overtly display their complicity in continuing to create these problems. I also believe that this contradiction adds to the communicative potential of glass artworks.  I decided that I could not justify continuing to make objects that seek to navigate my concerns without offsetting 150% of the own carbon impact of making. This is a tricky issue to speak about, I don’t feel I can say my colleagues should be minimising and offsetting their carbon impact, however, my own experience has shown that calculating and offsetting an art practice is surprisingly achievable.

This is not the first time you’ve been awarded the Tom Malone Prize. What do you enjoy about the exhibition and will we see another project from you in the next one!

It is very gratifying to have work shortlisted for this prize so that it can sit amongst its peers. It is a great honour to have my work selected twice for inclusion in the permanent collection at AGWA, this helps the audience to appreciate the breadth of an individual art practice and how it evolves over time. I am pleased that some traditional Venetian decorative techniques and references to the historical forms of the goblet and scientific labware are now part of the growing collection.

The wider collection of winners is a unique record of the Australian glassmaking community. I am very grateful to the sponsors of the Tom Malone Prize for giving this group of specialised makers the impetus to strive toward ambitious works.  I am certain that I will continue to participate in this important national survey exhibition.

View the Tom Malone Prize exhibition before it closes 28 May.

To view more of Tom Moore’s work visit his official page.

Images courtesy of the artist Tom Moore.

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