hey say that it is the fate of glass to break. But as this new exhibition explores, breaking need not always be an act of destruction: it can also have positive connotations, and be a symbol of hope and new beginnings. Taking glass as its starting point, BRKN examines the fascinating cognitive divide between the physical and finite, and the enduring and conceptual.
All is Broken at Shanghai Museum of Glass
“It is the fate of glass to break:” Taking this well-known proverb as its starting point, BRKN explores how things shattered, fractured and cracked can speak to heartbreak and hope, and everything in between. With glass as their core medium – a material whose inherent fragility renders it a potent and recurring metaphor in countless languages – as well as music, 21 installations explore the connotations, implications, and possibilities of broken.
Although nothing if not nuanced, the term ‘broken’ most commonly describes negative states, weighed with the implication of finality. We tend to discard broken things, for example, and try to walk away from broken relationships. Indeed, fractured alliances – be they of friendship, love or faith – are a central theme in this exhibition, with the metaphor of the heart as glass recurring throughout.
Our imagined center of love, reason and emotion, the organ – literally a lifeforce – represents the nexus of our weaknesses. Much like glass, it is fragile, and demands careful handling; while the material’s literal transparency mirrors the idealized purity associated with the heart’s spiritual affinities.
In BRKN, heartbreak is imagined through a series of installations that shine a light on these emotional associations of ‘broken.’ They include ‘Fragile,’ inspired by the eponymous anthem that has become synonymous with a call for compassion. Here, the song’s lyrics have been realized in mouth-blown neon – a delicate process calling for utmost care – on a seven-meter high wall. Those towards the top of the work are intact, with those at its lower reaches broken.
Whether gradual and slow or sudden and sharp, the act of breaking requires force, pressure and tension. In one of BRKN’s most striking installations, ‘Unbreakable,’ dichotomous forces are imagined by way of a speeding car – more than a ton of steel, rubber and glass – slammed to a halt, having collided against an unyielding obstacle: an ethereal beam of light. The work calls into question signifiers of power, and the duality of opposing forces in the world around us.
Also exploring this idea of confrontation and clash is ‘Mama Said Knock You Out,’ which applies the tension of a high-octane boxing match in order to examine the connotations and consequences of reaching breaking point.
Understandings of the term ‘broken’ depend very much on context, and its fundamental associations of discontinuity can speak as much to positive outcomes as to negative. In Breaking the Glass Ceiling, that means a tearing down of erstwhile invisible barriers, and the work nods to ongoing activism with regard to workplace gender equality.
The breaking down of what stood before holds promise for something new in its stead. This proposition is also shared by glass: once shattered, it is virtually impossible to restore to its former integrity. But although “It is the fate of glass to break,” once broken, it may be molten down, recycled and repurposed for a fresh chapter, and new beginnings.
The exhibition’s final work plays on this ambiguity to describe a break from the past, and the embarking on a new and different journey. Titled ‘Glücksbringer,’ it invites exhibition-goers to partake in a wedding tradition common to several world cultures: smashing glasses. A physical expression of the turning point marriage represents, it celebrates the promise of new beginnings.
Works on display, all created by Shanghai Museum of Glass, also comprise a non-visual element: music. A medium rich in glass metaphors, selected artists either expressly employ glass as an allegory, or eloquently describe certain of its qualities. In the context of both a museum, and of an art installation, these familiar songs are imbued with alternative, and sometimes surprising, interpretations.
BRKN is curated by Tilman Thürmer, Design Director of Shanghai Museum of Glass. A trained architect whose tenure at the institution extends more than a decade, he views the exhibition as an opportunity to consider a quality of glass that in a museum context is more dreaded than it is dissected. “As a designer and curator, the disconnect between the trauma of broken glass and what that means in a physical sense, versus the expansive metaphorical possibilities of ‘breaking,’ is interesting,” he said. “This was a starting point for many insightful conversations within our international team, and the catalyst for this show.”
The third edition of exhibition series, ‘Keep it Glassy,’ BRKN invites visitors to take an alternative look at the world around them, and at glass in particular. Since its inauguration in 2011, Shanghai Museum of Glass has served not just as a platform for creations in glass, but also as a space dedicated to exploring concepts in art, architecture and design, all hinged around the myriad possibilities of glass.
作为“国际玻璃创意设计展”（Keep it Glassy）的第三个系列，本次展览将邀请观众以另一种视角去审视他们周围的世界以及玻璃这种材质。自2011年开馆以来，上海玻璃博物馆不仅是一个玻璃创作的平台，更是一个致力于探索艺术、建筑和设计理念的空间，而所有的这一切，都与玻璃的无限可能性紧密关联。