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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Curator Insights with Allison Holland

Heath Ledger Exhibition Program_260917_V1.indd

Written by Mikaela Hewett, Communications Intern

 

Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures is a compelling new exhibition presented by AGWA and the Western Australian Museum. Celebrating a life spent both in front of the camera and behind it, this display features photographs and personal belongings of the late Heath Ledger. I met up with curator Allison Holland to discuss what we should expect from the exhibition, currently showing at AGWA.

Hi Allison, thanks for meeting with me today. Could you tell us what we should know about Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures?

The project started in 2011 with the WA Museum. The core of this exhibition comes from Heath Ledger’s Archive. These include costumes from his films, journals Heath created as he developed several of his characters, as well as an extraordinary number of photographs and film footage taken on and off the set.  There are scripts, storyboards, and production stills all documenting the process of filmmaking.

I have also included portraits by artists who photographed Heath at various times throughout his career. These photographs were published in Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and other celebrity magazines.

On the 22 January 2018, it will be the 10th anniversary of Heath’s passing, so this exhibition is a timely celebration of his life and creativity. Heath was a local boy and started his career here, so the early section of the exhibition focusses on Perth.

How did you approach the curation of this exhibition?

When I started to work with this material and conceive of the exhibition, I considered displaying the process of filmmaking through Heath’s career to communicate to the audience the complexity of production and how it is a collaborative process. From a very young age, Heath wanted to be a director, so I also wanted to convey his enthusiasm about all aspects of filmmaking – not just being an actor.

I never knew that. Could you tell us more about Heath’s desire to be a director?

The exhibition also recreates Heath’s creative studio, based in Los Angeles, called The Masses. He and a group of friends – musicians, artists, and filmmakers – got together to collaborate on a diverse set of projects. Heath made a number of music videos, which are being screened, as well as the storyboards and treatments he created as part of the process of directing them.

There were also two films he intended to direct. One of them was The Queens Gambit, based on a novel about a young female chess master. The pre-production stage was scheduled to commence at the end of 2008, but unfortunately, he passed away. The other one, still in script development, was about the 1970s musician Nick Drake.

Heath was very passionate about Nick Drake and while completing Todd Haynes’s biopic on Bob Dylan – I’m Not There – he decided to completely change his approach from depicting the musician’s life to using Nick’s music to lead an unrelated narrative.

That’s interesting to hear. What can you tell us about Heath’s interest in photography?

There are several photographic albums on display in this exhibition, which Heath meticulously compiled by placing photographs in very considered juxtapositions. There are also thirty-two photographs from the Archive hung in a mass display. Many Heath had enlarged, or framed and displayed in his homes.

So when did Heath begin to show an interest in photography?

He’d been taking photographs since he was a teenager, but around 1998 he started to focus on how things looked through the frame, or the lens, of the camera. While on set he would take an opportunity to learn from the directors and the directors of photography. He would look at the rushes or dailies to see how things appeared through the lens, and ask questions about apertures and lighting effects. He was just fascinated by the whole image making process.

Heath sounds like he had many different talents and passions. Are there any we haven’t mentioned yet?

Heath had a passion for chess and played, on an average, ten games a day – he just adored the game.

That’s a lot of chess games! Before we wrap up, can you share what excites you about the exhibition?

I’m excited for people to see his photography and music video. I also want to convey his collaborative nature and how he nurtured younger actors and filmmakers through The Masses and on set. I hope people who visit the exhibition will appreciate the complexity of the film industry and how many people contribute to realising a director’s vision.

Our next Pursuing Your Passions guest is Managing Director of Rusty, Geoff Backshall.  Join Geoff on Friday 3 November from 5:30pm in the exhibition space at AGWA.

 

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