Venetian glass manufacturer Salviati was founded in 1859 and, by the end of the 19th century, was famous for its enamel glass mosaics. In London, Salviati’s work can be seen at St Paul’s Cathedral (under the dome), Westminster Abbey (behind the altar) and on the spandrels of the facade of the Apple Store on Regent Street, which was once Salviati’s London headquarters.
More recently, Salviati has worked with contemporary designers and architects such as Thomas Heatherwick, Amanda Levete, Anish Kapoor and Tom Dixon to encourage new approaches to glass. A more experimental exhibition is now at London’s Aram Gallery. Breaking the Mould, a collective of seven Italian designers, is showing the results of its 2011-12 residency at Salviati’s Murano workshop.
The designers had no background in glass, but as curator Heloïse Parke says: “We’re not saying anyone can turn their hand to glass-blowing. They need an immense amount of strength and training.” Working with Salviati’s master glassblowers and materials scientist Tommaso Cavallin, the designers investigated the possibilities of mould-blowing – with moulds made of unusual materials and shapes.
“Experimental” can be an overused word, but the 14 pieces are accompanied by a description of materials, objectives, process and results, in the style of a school chemistry report. In Experiment 1 the idea was to line parts of a traditional wooden mould with ceramic wool. With no fracture marks, the piece was judged a success; the cloudy, frosted effect on this nearly half-metre-high block is striking and, seeing as the object has no use, slightly mysterious. Parke says her initial reaction to the transparent pieces was: “They look like no glass I’ve seen before.” In the more complicated Experiment 7, coloured glass was blown inside a pocket of ceramic tissue. The texture of the tissue was imprinted on to the triangular-shaped glass piece, which was then cut and sanded at the corners.
Learning in Glass ties in with the recent efforts of other glassmakers, notably the Berengo Studio’s Glasstress collaboration with artists, to make glass more interesting. As Parke says, “We’re going through something of a material renaissance … It’s inevitable that glass will have its moment.”