- Aerie notion: Susan Taylor Glasgow's "The Communal Nest."
The centerpiece of Susan Taylor Glasgow's exhibition Absence of Body, at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, is undoubtedly "The Communal Nest," a large-scale assemblage consisting of glass twigs, real branches, a chair and a glass pillow. The work was built with help from the community and from artists around the world, all of whom contributed glass twigs to this "collective" nest.
But despite these and other it-takes-a-village aspects -- sponsorship proceeds from one "twig"-making workshop here benefitted the Bethlehem Haven Women's Shelter of Pittsburgh, for instance -- Glasgow's work ultimately suggests a rather ironic view of home.
The impressive 8-foot-wide "Communal Nest" installation consists of several hundred of the glass twigs, each a few feet in length. They are entwined with real branches, forming a circular nest that is surrounded by bits of clear or gray rock-like glass pieces. In the nest's center stands a once-turquoise chair, now with a rusty patina. On it rests a clear glass "pillow," decorated with actual crocheted edging. The nest, perfectly person-sized, seems welcoming at first, but the ineffectual "hard" pillow does not evoke the sense of a comfortable perch, and the glass twigs seem too delicate to traverse to reach the chair in the center of the nest.
This impractical nest is in keeping with Glasgow's artist statement: "I have always embraced femininity and domesticity in spirit, but not in action. My life as an artist puts housekeeping last, while instead I cook, arrange, and sew glass." "The Communal Nest" came from an earlier piece that combined imagery of bluebirds and housewives, paying homage to the feminine nesting instinct.
The nest was the result of an eight-week residency that Glasgow participated in at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. "Communal Nest" is scheduled to travel across the U.S., for display in locations including Columbia, Mo. (her hometown) and St. Louis.
The extraordinary nest is nestled among a selection of smaller works by Glasgow. Most include her signature combination of sewing and glass, in which thread is stitched through holes in the glass. Glasgow, once a professional seamstress, thoughtfully combines the domestic "craft" of stitchery with the more "serious," and historically masculine, craft of glassmaking.
Included among these lovely smaller works is "Journey House," a sculpture made using kiln-formed and flame-worked glass that stands about 2-and-a-half feet high. The piece looks like a miniature staircase; a miniature glass house sits atop the staircase and enveloped within it is a small green chair. The edges of the staircase and house are cross-stitched through tiny holes in the glass. The door-less house, seemingly impenetrable, proposes little reward for "climbing" the long, narrow staircase.
Equally poetic is "Letting Go," a grid of nine glass houses, each only a few inches high, arranged atop a glass-and-ribbon placemat. They are stitched at the edges with black thread. Each of the little houses rests on a glass doily, decorated with peach-colored ribbon. The orderly grid of identical homes suggests a suburban landscape. The houses are, again, without doors or windows. Each contains what appears to be glass-covered feathers or leaves. The central house, the only one with thick, black edging, contains a rock-like object. The homes hold tiny treasures or secrets, but we are afforded only a peek inside, limited to what we can see through the imperfectly clear glass. The remaining works in the show include other glass replicas of houses, pillows and a swing set; each suggests the conceit, and impossibility, of domestic bliss.
Absence of Body continues through Jan. 9. Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh 15206. 412-365-2145 or www.pittsburghglasscenter.org