Walking past a Chinese-style Catholic cathedral in Tainan, I had a glimpse inside and saw an incense holder. She later told me that she had been living near this cathedral since she moved to Tainan from Taipei, but she had never gone inside. In fact, I had never met this friend of mine in person. We are both freelancers who are not local to Tainan, so we decided to meet up to get to know each other first. Her name is Jiayu, a mosaic glass artist who runs the brand Islet Studio.
Hsinchu in Taiwan is rich in natural resources like silica sand, limestone, and sodium carbonate, which are all raw materials for glass production. The area has been a glass production hub for Taiwanese and international companies ever since 1925 when Taiwan was still under Japanese rule. Jiayu was once a glassblower. At the peak of her career, she instructed over twenty tourists per day to make their own unique glassware. Glass is primarily made of sand, which turns into a liquid form under extremely high temperature, then it solidifies almost instantly once it is brought back to a lower temperature. Water evaporates into water vapor that eventually falls back to Earth as precipitation, whereas silica sand melts into a liquid and becomes glass when it cools down. I believe, as time goes by, human and places can also undergo a transformation.
Glass blowing is a thermal process, while the stained glass is a cold process. The molten glass for blowing turns stiff again after cooling down for thirty seconds, it is a quick process that the artist needs to shape the glass and resist gravity force simultaneously. Jiayu soon realized that she was not such a determined and agile person. Therefore, she decided to study the stained glass as seen in European-style churches, as well as the Taiwanese patterned glass.
I：家鈺 Jiayu from Islet Studio
I： 我喜歡吳明益寫的《天橋上的魔術師》書，也喜歡他寫的《浮光》，前者寫虛實，而《浮光》中有一句「生於火 浮於光」是在說攝影，但那也可以代表玻璃嗎？沙子在火中化為玻璃，古玻璃、透明玻璃或是乳香玻璃，因為不同的厚度浮於光，就是我著迷的地方。
M: How was this stained glass vase made?
I: I am a collector of Taiwanese patterned glass. I own many pieces of glass in different sizes and patterns. I first began by drawing a sketch. After getting a precise measurement of the angles between each piece of glass and their sizes, I cut the patterned glass with a glass cutter. As for the glass without a pattern, I had to bring it to a professional to do it for me. The next step was to stick copper platinum tape on each piece of glass, apply tin on them, then wield and stick them together.
M: That sounds simpler than I thought. How would you describe the charisma of the processes?
I: That’s right. Glassblowing requires a furnace of around one to two thousand degrees celsius. Comparatively, stained glass involves a much easier process. Making stained glassware allows me to modify my design at my own pace. I can spend time to consider the outcome of my work carefully, as well as to invest more time to research on the relationship between geometry and mathematics. The more important thing to me is the beautiful reflection and shadow from each piece of glass, they exude such a romantic vibe. My work is complete only with light and geometric constructs. Perhaps what I truly adore is the reflection of light. I like things that are fluid, tender, yet substantial.
M: So you would like to retain light in the transparent three-dimensional objects you make?
I: I really like Wu Ming-yi’s books The Magician on the Skywalk and Above Flame. The Magician on the Skywalk is a collection of short stories of magical realism. In Above Flame, there is a line on photography that writes, “Born from fire, floats on the light”. Don’t you think this is also an apt description for glass? Sand becomes glass in a burning flame. Be it the vintage glass, the transparent glass, and the tinted glass, they all float on light because of the difference in their thickness. I found this absolutely fascinating.
“No one is an isolated island, each island is connected to the vast ocean.”
The patterned glass taken from a demolished old building is a representation of the humble lifestyle of Taiwan in the old days. The vintage glass was detached from and reconstructed with the ocean, the mountain, the ore, the plants, and other natural resources through the stain techniques. Breathe in the tenderness and copiousness of the island, give a second life to the old and dying things; Islet Studio is a bridge that connects the customers with the history, hoping the reconnection can be a beginning for a brand new story.