Omar Erbil, the live glassblowing of the London Design Festival

Omer Erbil’s live glass blowing unites sculpting and experimentation at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The practice of iconic Canadian design Omar Arbel is a collision of worlds, uniting sculpture, design, invention and – in his presentation “Physical Experiences” at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London Design Festival 2022 – Performance

Canadian artist and designer Omar Arbel stands in John Madejski’s garden at V&A, viewing the latest item in his series 113 unfold. Material Experiments sees a small team of glassblowers carry out the ongoing series of ritual recalibrations of materials through Friday, September 23rd, ending with a special late-night performance.

The Arbel chain’s operation begins in local charity stores across London, where a group of 11 artists select items made of glass and copper alloys. Objects are then displayed in the V&A’s Santa Chiara Chapel, where they sit until they are chosen by the team to be repurposed. Glass pieces are melted and blown to form irregular bowls; The bowls are stretched into hollow, long drops and the sherry glass turns into an unbalanced ball.

Omar Erbil, “Physical Experiences” in the Chapel of Santa Chiara in the Victoria and Albert Museum, part of London Design Festival 2022

Next, the team melts the selected metal object and pours the molten liquid into the rapidly shrinking containers, causing them to crash onto the metal’s surface creating a carefully designed collision between science and art.

Erbil’s work is process-based, “so we are presented with a set of parameters for the design process,” explains Jay McDonnell, Bocci’s Glassblower and Materials Exploration Director, and then we pick whatever it takes, and the different aspects come together to form a path.”

Omar Arbel, “Physical Experiments” in the John Madejski Garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum, part of London Design Festival 2022

The input from each decision leaves the fingerprints of the individuals involved in the process. MacDonell describes the patterns within the copper alloy structures as “like a glass shape memory,” and this thread of memories runs smoothly through Arbel’s concept of 113.

The result of the ongoing work, which Arbel began experimenting with in 2019, are deep copper structures, in which shards of metal are left hanging, floating while maintaining their new shape. Contrasted with its opposite side, the outer surface of the metal has been protected from oxidation by the now-shattered glass seal—another shining detail in experiments that were planned or not, a nod to the properties of natural materials.

Omar Arbel, “Physical Experiments” in the John Madejski Garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum, part of London Design Festival 2022

Arbel is buzzing with excitement at the possibility of physical repairs: “What I’m suggesting is sort of a complete reconfiguration of the same raw material,” he says. “I want to ask – what are the precious relics, what did they live in and what is their spiritual presence?”

Macdonnell takes a similar tone, explaining that we “established this play on the value of pieces from thrift stores that cost very little, but are now on display at V&A.”

The Inquisition of Erbil asks the question: Should we dissolve everything and start over? Why do we cling so tightly to the relics of the past? His explanation sounds like a philosophical dive into how we value physical forms, and with this question up in the air, it sets yet another intriguing standard by which our ideas can thrive. It’s a perfect metaphor for the kind of changes that are taking place. Taking old things, dissolving them, then forming a shape by something that breaks. §

Seeing performance and process

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