Making Glass Objects from India to Italy

Italian Crafts

In a city like Venice, in Italy, where handicraft has always been part of the city traditions, like Burano’s laces, Murano’s glass, the famous gondola’s makers or even the blacksmiths and where in the XV century there was a flourishing trade connected to the East, the artisans are slowly disappearing for the same reason they are disappearing everywhere else. The young generations don't want to continue these traditions and So happens that most of the merchandise you can find in the shops are cheap imitations made in China and Taiwan. Among the artisans who are still in love with their roots there is Cristina Aleu a creative born in Barcelona, Spain, who ended up marrying Pierluigi Biancardi a venetian. It’s so beautiful and so exciting when different cultures meet and mix up giving birth to a new vision of there own traditions combined together.

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Synergy is very important because to create glass beads the skills of different artisans play a role.
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Design journey

Biancardi, their brand, started in 1983 in Venice. Pierluigi met Cristina during a trip and when they returned to Venice, he introduced her to all the treasures of the city on water. The blown glass in all its magnificent and intricate colours captured Cristina's heart and from then on they began to design jewellery collections in Murano glass, specialising in collections for high-profile fashion boutiques. Pierluigi scours the narrow alleyways and streets of Venice and Murano sourcing the needed gloss rods, gold and silver leaves, and moulds from the various dislocated laboratories. 

“Synergy is very important because to create glass beads the skills of different artisans play a role. There is an artisan who creates the coloured glass sticks, one specialised in creating “murrine”, another who create “avventurina”. The gold and silver leaves are created by another artisan and someone else creates the moulds”, says Cristina.

Cristina rigorously follows Haute Couture and "ready-to-wear" fashion, which merging with the craftsmanship of all these people, provide ideas for the design of the new collections. 

Process

“It is not easy to explain how to work the glass to create the beads, but let's try”, says Cristina “On a copper or steel stick the master pours melted glass. While the glass is still hot and soft he can stick what he wants on it, such as gold or silver leaf, murrine, other glass. Then again the flame will help to mix the different materials or colors, it's possible to design something using other glass and finally, with the help of a tweezer, give life to the required shape”. Beads made with blown glass are another story, the technique is different, as follows.

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The young generations don’t want to continue these traditions and So happens that most of the merchandise you can find in the shops are cheap imitations made in China and Taiwan.
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The glass is made of powder silica which melts at a temperature of 1600°. Between the liquid and the solid status it's possible to shape the material and the artisan blows into a cane on top of which there is a certain quantity of the melted material. These beads which result from this process are very light and more fragile compared to those made on the flame which are less fragile, but heavier.The blown glass beads are the right choice when the fashion goes for big and showy accessories, on the contrary, with the other technique, is possible to realise small beads too. 

Biancardi is recognized internationally, having participated in various international fairs and with customers spread all over the world, from the US to Japan.

Visit http://www.biancardivenezia.it for more information.

Complied and Translated by ELENA TOMMASEO

To understand the global and Indian use of glass as a material to create, we spoke to Srishti Dube, a potter and designer, who collaborates with artisans from different parts of the country to create handmade functional art and installations, with ceramic and glass at the core. For her latest collection of tea-lights 'Perch', she worked with glass artisans from Firozabad and a master potter from Delhi. She grew up surrounded by nature, which inspires her to find new expressions in her work.

She says “Traditionally, objects were passed down generations of a family. Consumerism has led to objects being rendered obsolete in a shorter span of time. I believe in creating objects that are cherished, focusing on emotional durability. It has to be heartfelt, otherwise its not worth it. In this fast-paced world, an attempt to bring back slow living, one object at a time.” We further chat with her understanding her design journey.

Journey with Design and Materials

I never consciously planned on Design, like many things in life it was completely spontaneous. I was a Science + Fine Arts student in school and I always wanted to do something creative but wasn't sure what. A friend suggested NID and I thought it was worth a shot. I gave the exam and went there because I simply didn't know what else to do. That being said, few weeks in the place grew on me.

We were introduced to clay in the foundation year. I still have a strong memory of coming back to my room that evening and researching a bit on internet. Those 3-4 hours opened a world of possibilities for me and the obsession continues to grow. There were times when I engaged with other materials, but to me nothing held the je ne sais quoi more than clay and glass.

Commercial design attains the balance when it becomes more humane in its approach. A person is an embodiment of his/her past and hopes for future. 
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Indian and Asian Crafts globally

Although many may argue craft is dying, personally I am hopeful about the future. There is a new wave of customers which is becoming increasingly aware and is  interested in knowing the story behind objects they consume. With its rich history and heritage, Indian & Asian crafts at large can provide the narrative. With the new maker movement rapidly changing the demographic, the future belong to makers and enterprises generating an inclusive environment for all sorts of creativity. Social media has also created new avenues. Craftsman today has a voice and a say in the global conversation. The world has never been more open and embracing for fresher perspectives.

There are many challenges, old and new. Since the craftsmen is removed from the audience, finding the right product-market fit is a task. A part of the industry still remains exploitative where the artisans are outsourced and treated as inexpensive workforce. Earlier when the local community made a craft sustainable,today it needs to reach out to more and more people in order to survive.

Craft and sustainability

I don't think going back to the old ways is the answer, or rather an option anymore. The present is under constant flux and craft needs to adopt. It took centuries and myriad of influences for craft to become what it is today. However, that shouldn't be at the risk of loosing out the soul of the craft. Craft to me is and should remain skilled expressions of an individual or shared by a community, perfected by discipline and time.

Traditionally, objects were passed down and used by generations of a family. The increase in consumerism has lead to creation of objects that are rendered obsolete in a shorter span of time. This obsolence can broadly said to be technological, emotional or cultural. To address the issue of landfills and disposables, objects that are being produced need to be thought about. Indigenous craft has always used locally sourced materials which ensures minimum harm to the environment. There is a sense of sanctity around there materials and they are used respectfully. Beyond using less harm causing materials, the functional, aesthetic and emotional durability also need to be taken in account. More often than not, an object made with love imparts value and is cherished. 

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A piece of craft is both a work of art and design

To a certain degree, yes. A piece of traditional craft is an expression of a collective, with a strong sense of identity of a community. There is a combination predictability with learned skill. Native craft was ''designed'' to serve a (mostly) utilitarian purpose. It emerged from needs of the society and used readily available materials to serve the same. Design bring in the context and ways to make it more relevant to the concerned audience. 

On the other side, every great art requires a certain skill (craft), but not every piece of craft can be perceived as art unless it makes one gasp and look twice. There has to be a sense of wondrous emotion connected with the object, which is purely subjective in nature.  

However, the contemporary definition of craft internationally is becoming increasingly synonymous with art, where a new generation becomes skilled with materials and uses it for their individual expressions. 

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Follow her works here

To participate write to us at sayali@cocoaandjasmine.com

The Craft Project wishes to document tangible anthropology i.e material culture of a place and comment on its relevance in the contemporary space. We also wish to bring together a community of cultural travelers and craft entrepreneurs and create a collective of common motivation. The Craft Project celebrates Diversity in culture through objects, folk arts, crafts, and design.  Through this project, we will be conducting community-sourced primary research and publishing about crafts and will involve brands, NGOs, collectives, makers, designers, curators, thought leaders, other publications.

Contemporary aesthetics

There is a need to stand out yet fit in and be a part. This paradox has lead to evolution of aesthetics and lifestyles with combination of traditional and recent ideas.

In Indian context, I like to think of it as "The new Indian chic", where traditional marries contemporary and forms a language of its own. A language in process, which many creatives across industries today are giving form. 
Commercial design attains the balance when it becomes more humane in its approach. A person is an embodiment of his/her past and hopes for future. The craftsmen has to become an active part of the process and should be allowed fluidity.  

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Process story

Sure, the process typically starts with me observing and intuitively coming up with certain concepts, which are vague to start with. I visit the craftsmen with these vague ideas and we start with what they want to start with. After protoyping, I let it be for a few days and shift my focus on other things. Its amazing how much time and distance can make one realise more possibilities. Then we work on it back and forth till its satisfying. 

The pieces play on the juxtaposition of clear glass against raw wood - one made alive and one once alive.

A single poppy pod is made in three different parts - The lean stem, blown bauble and the resting top. All three parts are made separately by hand in a process called lampworking; wherein borosilicate glass rods and hollow tubes are manipulated over different flame temperatures. As it becomes as viscous as honey, the rod is turned rhythmically. The artisan relies on visual judgement, practised and polished over the years, to read the temperature. As the parts are joined over flame, equilibrium needs to be maintained as thermal differences lead to the glass developing cracks later. Thicker parts are heated more and the ready poppy is set aside to cool evenly.

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Traditionally, objects were passed down and used by generations of a family. The increase in consumerism has lead to creation of objects that are rendered obsolete in a shorter span of time.