In the summer of 2017 I curated an exhibition called Umwelt, which marked the 80th anniversary of the glass department at the current Estonian Academy of Arts. Black-and white photos of a selection of graduation projects created by the students of glass art were on display. Since my goal was to examine the influences and changes affecting the individual’s journey from the classroom to life as an artist, new, and often only recently created works were also on exhibit.
The question I’m still asking is whether the works from the past have preserved their value and significance in the artists’ creative lives, or if a total change has occurred and a connection no longer exists between the artists’ current work and the projects they created as students.
The images presented made it possible to follow the trends of the last 50 years, a unique opportunity to detect changes that have taken place during the years 1967 – 2017.
From the Soviet era up to just a few years ago, the curriculum was based on the trinity: technique – design – realization in material. Now the time has come when we have no time for separately teaching technology, and thus the famous quotation of Harvey Littleton „technique is cheap“ has again become true in a way. Alas, glass is demanding and usually doesn’t allow to acquire the technical aspects en passant.
Still, hopefully we shall manage all right. I, for one, would definitely vote for project based learning as it offers variability, experience and motivation; brings students in touch with real art/design world; cultivates responsibility, teamwork ability, time management; widens one’s horizon in many different ways. Specified tasks with context and deadlines always provide limitations due to the rules of a project but motivation to have wider audience than an academic task-based evaluation process provides, seems relevant.
There are, of course, certain drawbacks, one of which is, in numerous cases, limited knowledge of technology. But today’s art world has definitely put that aspect on the back stage. Materials are used in unconventional ways and it’s not unlikely to skip the use of materials – glass, in this case – altogether. Written/spoken word has risen to the forefront.
I would like to present some examples of projects from the last ten years where the students have participated:
Meeting Point I Tallinn 2006, II Nancy 2007, III Amsterdam 2009, IV Olustvere 2015: international conferences and exhibitions including several European glass programs. Organization in Tallinn: Mare Saare, Tiina Sarapu, Eeva Käsper. As for learning aspect, in Tallinn approximately 10 students were included in the organizational process – receiving the guests (75 from 12 European glass programs), preparing materials for the exhibition and conference, distributing information and keeping an eye on the guests’ needs, rising the students’ self-confidence and responsibility, time-managing and communication skills.
World of Glass 2011 is an ongoing project with the musicians from Norway Terje Isungset and Arve Henrikson. Several glass artists and students designed and made glass instruments for their concerts. All in all approximately 30 glass instruments were made and first used during successful concerts in Tallinn in 2011 while Tallinn was one of the culture capitals of the European Union. Some concerts have later taken place in Sweden and elsewhere.
Food and Vessel 2011 – is also an ongoing project of glass and ceramic program students designing prototypes and making functional vessels for restaurants, cafes etc. Project leaders in glass department have included Tiina Sarapu, Eeva Käsper, Kristiina Uslar, Kristiina Oppi, Kairit Annus. Several clients have chosen prototypes designed by students. In some cases the author of the design proceeded with an individual contract making a series of glasses, plates etc for the client. In design projects the experience of co-operating with clients and consideration of their expectations on the product definitely teaches flexibility of mind as there is always a third counterpart – the client, whose needs must be taken into account as much as possible.
Interpretation 2015: an international exhibition of students from 8 glass programs in Europe. Project leader: Mare Saare. The project included international co-operation and was based on the concept of learning from the past – looking into history of glass and bringing into the 21st century context what was most interesting and inspirational for each student. The outcome was a collection of works that traveled in three countries – Estonia (Olustvere Manor), Poland (Ostrada, Olsztyn) and Latvia (Menzendorff House Museum, Riga). Students from mainly four glass departments were included in the process: Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Academies of Arts and Geppert Acadmy of Art and Design in Wroclaw + several guest students studying at that period at our department. Public prize was given to a student from Lithuania. A catalogue was published with articles from Dr Raimonda Simanaitiene (Lithuania), Dr Inguna Audere (Latvia) and Prof Mare Saare (Estonia).
„Things from Water“ 2016: a collaboration project between the three Baltic art academies. Project leaders were Valmantas Gutauskas, Rima Muleviciute (Lithuania), Inguna Audere (Latvia) and Mare Saare (Estonia). A summer workshop was organized at the Nida Art Colony Curonian split, Lithuania, in June 2016. It was a multidisciplinary project where students worked in groups preparing for an exposition and/or presentation at the end of the course. The issue „Things from water“ arose globally important questions and mainly researched the vulnerability and danger connected with water supplies on Earth. The short videos produced during the process were exposed to the public, discussed and analyzed.
Abandoned House Project – SUVA 2016: a multidisciplinary art project in Tallinn. Project leaders: Inguna Audere (Latvia), Kazushi Nakada (Japan/Finland), Mare Saare (Estonia). The abandoned house was a significant for us building – the previous stocking factory which is at present being renovated to become the new study building for Estonian Academy of Arts. Space-specific installations and Estonian poetry became the key words. Documentation both in video and still photography was produced. A book documenting the project is still in the process of being compiled in 2018 – just in time for the academy moving into its new home.
„Engraved Glass in Europe: student extra“ curated by Mare Saare and Norbert Kalthoff – a satellite of an international traveling exhibition „Gravur on Tour“, was shown at the National Library in Tallinn and at the Glass Museum Frauenau, Germany. Students from our academy, including our guest students from Japan and Ireland, and young German artists participated. Engraving on glass, an intimate and meditative branch in art, has been in danger of becoming extinct for some time. There are just a few glass departments in the world that still have this demanding technique in their curricula. Thanks to the innovative ideas and untraditional approaches engraved glass has gained popularity among a new generation of glass artists.
Lviv symposium 2016: participation of students in the 10th International Symposium of Hot glass in Lviv, Ukraine. A collection of hot manipulated glass objects for the student exhibition of the symposium was prepared. The students had an opportunity to be present and follow all the events of the symposium. It was also a very good stage for making important connections inside the global glass community and follow the long Ukrainian tradition in glass making and education.
Tallinn Botanical Gardens project 2018 – „Big vs small“ will include a site-specific installation (to be seen from the near-by TV tower) and an exhibition of glass objects among the greenhouse plants. BA 2nd ja 3rd year students from several specialties will work on the project tutored by Kristiina Uslar, Mare Saare, Jen Blazina/Philadelphia, USA/ and consulted by Michael Rogers /Rochester, USA.
The future – to be, or not to be: that is the question: departments of glass at universities all over the world have led struggle for their existance – some have won, and several have been closed. That is not a secret. The main reason, however diplomatically presented, is money. Making glass is expensive. Making glass is also demanding. It often takes a fanatic approach to keep going, to say nothing about the perspectives of having to earn a living by making glass. Therefore, we do not see hordes of applicants during the entrance exams. This year we had only five, and the course was not opened. The four were distributed to blacksmith and leather specialties – not a likely choice for the young glass enthusiasts.
Let us keep fingers crossed that we can survive the hard times and find understanding and appreciation from the academy officials.
We are on the way to our new „home“ in the renovated stocking factory I mentioned above in the project „Abandoned House“. We will, hopefully, take our old equipment, hoping it will survive the move, and relocate. I strongly believe that the specialty shall find a new start, implement the newest technologies. I do hope there will be the next generation with their great expectations, desire for innovation, and willingness to overcome the difficulties ahead to keep up the tradition of glass education in Estonia and everywhere else in the world where glass education is facing the same difficulties.
Tallinn, December 1, 2017
Estonian Academy of Arts
Faculty of Design
DEPARTMENT OF GLASS
Estonia pst 7
Sõstra 4 - 10
All photo credits: Mare Saare