On June 5, 2021, the cabinet ends the lockdown. The number of infections and admissions to hospitals drops sharply in June and the vacci- nation rate rises to the point that on June 26, step 4 in the opening plan can be taken: society, subject to the 1.5-meter measure, effectively reopens. As the Netherlands slowly awakens from the lockdown and it becomes possible to come together again, I find myself for a month in the brand new Student Hotel Delft (now The Social Hub) as Artist-in-Residence at the invitation of Highlight Delft.
In 2018, I was introduced to Highlight Delft and exhibited my graduation work Reawaken during the event of the same name at Theater de Veste in Delft. Reawaken (2018) is a kinetic sculpture with 55 robotic arms driven by 55 servo motors. Knocking down the arms creates an abstract print on paper. Reawaken is part of my larger investigation into how technology shapes, expands and limits our imagination.
Examining how technology shapes, expands and limits our imagination
In a world where technology is increasingly driven by invisible algorithms and the devices around us all have the same tablet shape, I am looking for counterparts. I want to make machines that look radically different, with an appearance that makes one wonder, brings back a little magic and makes one think about the purpose of the machine.
In the summer of 2020, I started learning scientific glassblowing to make fragile machines out of glass. The outbreak of the pandemic brought both challenges and opportunities. It was difficult to get hands-on experience because there were few opportunities for workshops; on the other hand, due to the lockdowns, I had time in abundance. In 2020, I received the Starter Grant for my research "Scientific Glassblowing" from the Creative Industry Stimulation Fund and the Young Talent Work Grant from the Mondriaan Fund. The financial support, combined with the extra time I had due to the pandemic, allowed me to create my own workspace, sit down and dedicate myself to learning to practice glassblowing at the burner.
Despite the benefits of isolation and focus, I found myself longing to show what I was doing. I began posting videos of my exercises behind the burner online on Instagram. I used these videos to analyze my progress, and became a way to share my work. The videos prompted the organization of Highlight Delft to approach me for a residency.
Glass in the hotel
For my residency, I temporarily moved my glass workshop to the Student Hotel. Every day I cycled from the Student Hotel to TU Delft to put down my gas bottle at the biolab, since the newly completed hotel had a gas-free policy. It is a miracle that I was allowed to work in the hotel with an open flame, but these were also strange times. The brand new hotel was in limbo, they were open but couldn't use any of the common areas. Half empty, they gave me the chance to temporarily stretch the rules.
Moving my workspace was relatively easy. And I thought it fit nicely with the historical nature of scientific glassblowing, also called lampworking, as a craft often practiced by itinerant societies.
Made of hundreds of tiny pieces, these dazzling machines drew the audience
As I delved into those traveling companies, I discovered that I was not the first to aspire to make machines out of glass. Functional glass steam engines were the stars of 19th-century traveling glass shows. Made from hundreds of tiny pieces, these dazzling machines drew audiences. They were widely advertised, in the advertisements the machines were given fanciful names like Fairy Queen, Excelsior, Columbia and the Crystal Gem. What I find most fascinating are the poetry contests that were held, the prize was awarded to those who had written the best verse about the glass machine.
I wanted to experiment with fluids and motion: glass joints, gears and chains. The first gear was quickly made, after this I started pulling the gears out of proportion to make organic cylindrical gears. I tried different techniques to enclose liquid in glass, testing colors and mixing liquids of different densities. During this period, I also worked on small models for a glass piston engine. The challenge of creating something so complex out of glass was enormous. However, I made significant progress and developed several prototypes that showed the potential of my ideas. I displayed the results on large light boxes in a 24/7 window exhibition.
With the reduced Covid-19 restrictions, I was able to host small groups in my temporary studio. The space where I worked was at street level, with large windows through which passersby could see me at work. It was a nice way to have remote contact with the environment.
I concluded my time at the Student Hotel with a small gathering and showcase of my glass prototypes. After spending all my time in my studio behind the burner, I was finally able to physically display my first results. Have conversations and hear opinions. The interactions with the audience reinvigorated and inspired me. It was a proud moment.
Following my developments during the residency, Highlight asked me to develop a work for Highlight November 2021. In my own estimation, carte blanche. From this came Symbiote, my first large kinetic installation made of glass. The linear movement of the ink-filled ornithopter-inspired arms is driven by five rotating glass gears and a glass chain. That rotation is driven by a single stepper motor.
During exhibitions, the machine seems to be on the verge of destroying itself. The glass gears and glass chain threaten to get stuck in twisted forms; when the glass breaks, ink is released. The ink drips onto a canvas, creating a print that records the destruction of the machine. I see this as a deconstructive performance, in which the machine is the performer and I am the assistant.
Due to the unexpected lockdown in November 2021, Highlight was postponed and Symbiote was on display for the first time at Prospects during Art Rotterdam 2022. After Prospects, I made repairs and adjustments, the work evolved. Symbiote.2 was shown in February 2023 during Highlight Delft at The Social Hub Delft (former Student Hotel). It felt good to be back at the site of my residency.