Symmetry Breaking Exhibition, Art Gym, Marylhurst University

The Art Gym presents Symmetry Breaking, featuring eight contemporary visual artists from the Pacific Northwest: Emily Counts, Jovencio de la Paz, Jo Hamilton, Anya Kivarkis, Brenda Mallory, Kristen Miller, Emily Nachison, and Jane Schiffhauer. This exhibition, curated by Blake Shell, showcases the work of artists who engage or intersect with craft materials or processes. An opening reception will be held from 4-6 pm on October 1, 2017. An accompanying catalog, designed by Sibley House, will be released on December 10, 2017.

Since 1980, the Art Gym has been recognized as a venue that exhibits some of the most significant and timely art of this region. The mission of the gallery is to increase public understanding of the contemporary art of the Pacific Northwest through exhibitions, artists’ projects, publications, and public engagement. The Art Gym is a non-collecting, non-commercial gallery that supports artists in creating ambitious, risk-taking projects at key stages in their careers. As an art space working within an academic venue, we are dedicated to making knowledge accessible and committed to providing artistic and intellectual freedom. The Art Gym’s catalogs continue to be among the greatest records of Pacific Northwest contemporary art, contributing to the discourse on contemporary art and representing the region. 

Exhibition Dates: October 3 - December 10, 2017 (Closed Nov 10 - 11 and Nov 23 - 27)

Opening Reception: Oct 1, 2017 from 4-6pm

Catalog Release and Closing Event: Dec 10, 2017 from 4-6pm

Art Gym
Marylhurst University
17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy. 43)
Marylhurst, OR 97036-0261

Artist Lecture at Bullseye Projects September 23, 2017

Please join me at Bullseye Projects on Saturday, September 23rd. I will be giving a lecture on my recent body of work as part of the closing reception for the "Transformations" exhibition. "Transformations" explores personal, natural, and metaphysical change; featuring work by Ligia Bouton, Kate Clements, Emily Counts, Emily Nachison, and Judy Tuwaletstiwa. "Transformations" is on view June 21 - September 30.

Saturday, September 23 at 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Bullseye Projects
300 NW 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209 USA

Permeable Structure Exhibition Catalog on Issuu

The Permeable Structures exhibition catalog is now available to view on Issuu. The catalog documents the inaugural exhibition at the Byre, a new exhibition space located in northern Scotland. Permeable Structure brings together the work of Silvia Levenson, Emily Nachison, Michael Rogers, and Karlyn Sutherland. The exhibition draws from the landscape, deep history, and culture of Caithness, the northernmost county in Scotland. The catalog includes essays by: Tina Oldknow, retired senior curator of modern and contemporary glass at The Corning Museum of Glass (2000–2015); Lani McGregor, Director, Bullseye Projects and Partner, Bullseye Glass Co.; and Michael Endo, Curator, Bullseye Projects. 2017, perfect bound, 32 pages, color.

Transformations Exhibition, Bullseye Projects

Bullseye Projects presents a group exhibition exploring themes of personal, natural, and metaphysical change. Transformations will be on view June 21 – September 30, 2017 and will open in conjunction with BECon 2017, Bullseye Glass Company’s biennial conference. Transformations features the work of artists Ligia Bouton, Kate Clements, Emily Counts, Emily Nachison, and Judy Tuwaletstiwa

Mysterious in its creation, common in its application, and utopian in visions of the future, glass is rife with cultural, scientific, and metaphysical meaning. The glass we encounter is largely comprised of sand, soda ash, lime, and metallic oxides. These minerals are combined, melted and then cooled into a myriad of forms. The recipe is millennia old, but retains much of the magic that likely accompanied its first discovery. Sand is transformed into glass; it is a transformation that borders on the alchemical. A common material is made into something new with unique qualities that require a new category of matter: amorphous solid. Artists Ligia Bouton (New Mexico), Kate Clements (Pennsylvania), Emily Counts (Washington), Emily Nachison (Oregon), and Judy Tuwaletstiwa (New Mexico), approach glass from diverse perspectives, but it is transformation – be it through meditations on mortality, adolescence, fantasty, or the spiritual - that draws them to this material and connects their work.

Ligia Bouton’s Table Conversation (2016) is an excerpt from a larger installation entitled The Cage Went in Search of a Bird, which imagined a discussion between Franz Kafka and Emily Bronte, both of whom were diagnosed with turburculosis. A blown glass belljar, containing a cast glass face, is connected via rubber and glass tubing to a mask – mouth to mouth – in a form of reciprocal respiration. Bouton says that the works “…explore how the body reflects the climate of the soul or indeed how the soul might communicate with a body under siege.” Kate Clements similarly addresses bodily death. Kate Clements’ Beloved (2016) is comprised of a glass vivarium on painted legs holds discarded floral arrangements from funeral services. The decay of the cut bloom, a frequent symbol in Dutch “vanitas” paintings from the 18th century, is a dissolution mimicking the inevitable transformation of our own bodies.

In their recent work, Emily Counts and Emily Nachison are both exploring the idea of hidden stories, which are manifest through references to mythology, fantasy, the body, and occult symbolism. In Emily Counts’ Future Connect and Bind (2016), a bronze mound, embossed with inscrutable symbols, is connected via a jagged and irregular chain to a flesh-colored, dripping cone made of cast glass. To Counts, each material and individual element is a “marker of time” and an “aesthetic impulse.” Strung together they form a narrative that reflects her interest in “…connectivity and fluidity in biology, technology, and sexuality.” Similarly, Emily Nachison combines a variety of materials, drawing on their cultural and historic associations, in sculptures that touch on our desire to mythologize the world. In this new body of work, Nachison refers to adolescence, sexuality, and fantasy. Tween Dream (2017), a cast glass pony head, emblazoned with glass earrings common to 90’s mall piercing kiosks, speaks to desire and disappointment. Its companion piece Pony Girl (2017), a hanging sculpture of leather, thick rope, and cast glass, references a bridle while silmultaneously recalling bondage accoutrements. Together they mark a threshold between youth and adult fantasy.

In 2012, Judy Tuwaletstiwa began a residency at the Bullseye Glass Resource Center in Santa Fe. This was the beginning of a months long journey, mixing fine glass powders to create subtle color variations. These colors, lightly tack-fused into amorphous wafers, have become both paint and brushstroke in Tuwaletstiwa’s large abstract composition. 2 (ruah.old) (2016) is made of small black, red, and orange wafers attached in visually udulating groupings on a field of black stained stretched canvas, recalling reptile scales, stone, or smouldering embers. These associations play out throughout her works, which often refer back to the written word. In her 2016 book, Glass, Tuwaletstiwa explains that the body of work entitled ruah – Hebrew for wind, breath, spirit – are in reference to the 1989 Edmond Jabès book Das Buch der Fragen. “In [the book], Jabès questions God and man, seeking language to express the unspeakable in the face of the Holocaust.” The works are “…responses, not answers, to the silent question that Das Buch der Fragen asks.”

Bullseye Projects
300 NW 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209 USA

American Craft Council Lecture: Objects and Installations: The Work and Residencies of Emily Nachison, May 10, 2017

American Craft Council Library Salon Series Lecture Objects and Installations: The Work and Residencies of Emily Nachison

Through sculptural objects and installation, artist Emily Nachison investigates the use of story, symbols, and materiality to mythologize natural phenomena, escapism, and the desire for secret knowledge. In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Bullseye Projects invited her to participate in residencies at North Lands Creative Glass in Lybster, Scotland. Working in response to the unique landscape and architecture of Caithness, Scotland, Nachison created a series of projects for the Byre, a new Bullseye Projects exhibition space in Latheronwheel, Scotland. Nachison will discuss her recent residencies and exhibition.

The Library Salon Series is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Wednesday, May 10, 7:00pm, 2017

1224 Marshall St. NE, Suite 200
Minneapolis, MN 55413

Periphery: League of Women Designers Exhibition, Design Week Portland, April 2017

A curated exhibition by the League of Women Designers. Periphery is part of Design Week Portland. Design Week Portland is a week-long, city-wide series of programs exploring the process, craft, and practice of design across all disciplines.

Exhibition Dates: April 27th-30th, 2017

Olympic Mills Building, 107 SE Washington St, Portland, Oregon 97214

Participating Artists and Designers: Laura Allcorn, Leah K.S. Amick, Jennifer Cooke, Taryn Coward, Emi Day, Jennifer Freudenberger, Ali Gradisher, Lauren Hackett, Whitney Jordan, Abbie Miller, Emily Nachison, Marilee Sweeney, Sara Schmidt, Rena Simon, Chelsea Stephen

American Craft Council Announces 2017 Rare Craft Fellowship Award Finalists

The American Craft Council is excited to announce the finalists for the 2017 Rare Craft Fellowship Award in association with The Balvenie. For the last three years, the Rare Craft Fellowship Award has recognized and supported artists’ contributions to the maintenance and revival of traditional or rare crafts in America.

From a pool of qualified and talented makers, five artists were selected as finalists for the Rare Craft Fellowship Award by a panel of jurors. The American Craft Council is pleased to present the following artists:

  • Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer, furniture makers
  • Janice Arnold, textiles
  • Amara Hark-Weber, shoemaker
  • Sandra and Wence Martinez, painter and weaver 
  • Emily Nachison, glass and installation

Jury panel:

  • Anthony Bourdain, author, chef, and raconteur
  • Michael Radyk, ACC director of education
  • David Stewart, The Balvenie’s malt master
  • Jennifer Zwilling, curator of artistic programs, the Clay Studio, Philadelphia

For more information visit:

Flower Time at the Lillestreet Art Center in Chicago, Illinois

Flower Time, a public installation at Lillstreet Art Center Rooftop Project Space. 

This series of flags was inspired by Carolus Linnaeus’ horologium florae (floral clock) hypothesis. In 1751, Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist, hypothesized that flowers could be used to measure time by planting them in a 12-point radial formation based on when their species opened and closed. Carolus Linnaeus, (1707 – 1778) is often referred to as the Father of Taxonomy. Linnaeus was the first to frame principles for defining natural genera and species of organisms and to create a uniform system for naming them. The flowers pictured on the flags in Flower Time are organized by the time of day in which they open. Flags will be on view November 1 - 30, 2016

Lillstreet Art Center

4401 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

Photography by Nora Renick-Rinehart

Salt and the North Sea

A new project exploring salt collection and the North Sea. 
More information coming soon.

Art Ltd Magazine May/June Issue "New Directions in Glass"

New Directions in Glass by Sarah Margolis-Pineo

It is no secret that craft is making a comeback. From the 2014 Whitney Biennial to your neighborhood supermarket, the term craft is being used to spur critical discourse as well as fetishize consumable goods. Throughout the previous century, craft existed as a slippery, nebulous thing, lurking on the fringes of industry and Fine Art. But with the 21st century, craft has entered a new era of post-disciplinary, post-object practice, in which social activism, performance, DIY tactics, and new technologies are made tangible, and given new meaning, through materials and processes traditionally associated with craft. Despite this new conceptual underpinning, intense, media-specific training is required for proficiency in any craft.

Of all these distinct mediums, glass has garnered the least attention within the scope of contemporary art. We are accustomed to seeing innovative exhibitions of fiber and ceramics in museums and international art fairs, but surveys of contemporary glass are confined predictably to the work of Chihuly and his Venice-trained contemporaries. Further, jewelry, wood furniture, cloth-goods and clay are staples of the artisan marketplace. Once taken home, they give shape to our lives, becoming intimate acquaintances through daily use.

Glass, however, remains relegated to the pedestal and sideboard. Static and inaccessible, so much of what defines contemporary glass art has been inherited from the object-driven agenda of the studio craft movement. Twentieth-century glass separated itself from the applied arts and the avant garde by perpetuating a mystique of preciousness and aesthetic transcendence. This ideology continues to flourish in the insular institutions of art glass: the media-specific museums, galleries, and residencies that generate much of the discourse around glass-based work. We are taught to perceive glass as the product of a magical process—the perfect meeting of silica and fire, massaged to life by a spritely man in bright trousers and an eye patch. At a time when other craft-based disciplines were crossing-genres to collide with design and contemporary art, the dissemination of glass has remained resolutely apart. And so it has been, until now.

Contemporary glass is witnessing a call to action. The field has become both laboratory and playground to a cohort of emerging artists experimenting with the material and conceptual potential of the medium. There has been a move away from the object. Glassmakers are eschewing the pedestal in favor of installation, video, intervention, and performance. Many are taking on the idea of craft—the history, context, and process of glass itself—as the conceptual foundation of their work. Craft has become a tool to investigate and open up the field. It has the potential to promote alternate ways of perceiving and working with glass, rather than functioning as a discrete classification unto itself. Further, the relationship of glass to everyday life provides artists with a vehicle to look outside traditional disciplinary categories, to explore how other institutional frameworks—industry, environmental biology, physics, urbanism, etc.—can inform their practices. A perceptual shift is underway.

It's an exciting time to be working in glass.

This article features four glass artists based in the Pacific Northwest, who are expanding the boundaries and language of glass art in innovative ways. The first is Matthew Szösz, a recent transplant to Seattle from the Bay Area, whose manipulation of molten glass is poised between control and risk. Szösz's series of Inflatables is perhaps his most recognized body of work. Created by pumping compressed air into fused sheets of hot glass, the forms that emerge are surprising—pillowy tessellations, simultaneously buoyant and fixed.

The Inflatables series speaks to Szösz's interest in experimentation. Much of his work investigates the materiality of glass itself. He explores the medium's unforeseen potential through systematic tests as well as disorderly manipulation. As an artist, Szösz embraces chaos and accident. Failure is never an outcome if the end result of one's work is unknown. His series of Expandables, including the piece Clothesline (2012), proves failure and success to be blurred quantities within a truly experimental methodology. Presented on four-channel video, Clothesline documents Szösz in his studio heating strips of found glass windowpanes to fusing temperature—1600º. As the glass emerges from the kiln, it is hung on a mechanized clothesline to contract and crumble as it solidifies. The shards rain intermittently from the suspended installation, breaking loose and hitting the floor with a distinctive splintering sound.

Szösz is opening up the field of ephemeral glass. Seemingly a contradiction, Szösz's work proves that artists can move beyond the material confines of the media. This summer, he will be in residence at STARworks in North Carolina, and spending one month in Belgium as the recipient of the International Glass Prize. At both sites, Szösz will develop a project that brings together sound and glass, investigating the idea of the musical frequency as material.

Anna Mlasowsky similarly explores the relationship between material and the ephemeral. She is intrigued by invisible frequencies—resonances that are detected occasionally by the ears and skin as they pass through our bodies in waves. Her intent is to capture these invisible forces and, using glass, render it material. To achieve this, she embarks on multi-year research endeavors to develop new ways of incorporating sound into the production of glass. Often, her approach is cross-disciplinary, leveraging digital technology alongside traditional kiln-forming technique.

Sound Visions (2013) was an early piece within this body of work. Mlasowsky began by adding glass powder to water, manipulating it by hand to create a pattern of waves—like sand on an ocean floor. She preserved these vibrations by setting them on glass sheets that were fused in a kiln. What emerged were four white plates that ripple like lunar tide pools—simultaneously natural and extraordinary. Mlasowsky digitized each image using a 3D scanner, and assigned a corresponding sound to each iridescent wave. Ultimately, the glass sculptures were presented with an accompanying soundscape arranged by Thorsten Schepers. In her installation titled Resonance (2013), Mlasowsky took a different approach to exploring the aural potential of glass. After distilling the approximately 200-resonant frequencies within the audible range for a sheet of aluminum, she played each frequency through a speaker that was attached to the aluminum plate. By using glass powder that was later kiln-formed, she was able to create a solid shape—a dark, web-like screen—to embody each sound.

Currently, Mlasowsky is pursuing her MFA at the University of Washington. She recently received a Glass Art Society Technology Advancement Grant to research a new pate de verre technique that uses 3D modeling and rapid prototyping in lieu of traditional molds. This project, which has the potential to mark a huge technological shift in the field of glassmaking, will be featured in an exhibition opening July 1, 2015 at Bullseye Projects (Portland, OR).

Despite the lure of the digital, Andy Paiko is a glass artist who remains entirely enthralled by the technology of centuries past—the mechanical. Paiko is recognized for his flawless glassblowing technique in the tradition of Czech and Venetian artisans. What makes his work decidedly contemporary is not his medium, but the conceptual threads underlying his practice. Working alone in his Portland, Oregon studio, Paiko produces objects so tightly wound, their component parts lock together like the cogs of an intricate machine.

His recent piece, Pumpjack (2014), incorporates wood, brass, and leather into a composition of blown, sculpted, and cut clear glass. A miniature version of the monumental pump-jacks seen in the oil producing regions of the south and west, Paiko's sculpture inhales upward, and deflates back, glimmering with a sense of playfulness—a wholly theatrical thing. Like his earlier Spinning Wheel (2007), Pumpjack draws you in with its mesmerizing motion and keeps you enthralled by the imaginative potential of the medium. The sculptures modulate with routine whirs and thrusts that, like the capacity to work glass, point to human mastery over the natural world. Both real-life referent and sculptural representation signify the transformation of raw material. They operate simultaneously as mechanical mysteries and human-engineered marvels.

In addition to his kinetic instruments, Paiko also creates intricate chandlers, bell jars, and other sculptural works. From 2009-2013, he collaborated with sound artist Ethan Rose on Transference, a room-sized glass harmonica that hummed and sang on mechanized tones. Like the sound emitted by moistened finger on the rim of a wine glass, Paiko was able to generate a range of tones from the contact between a cloth hammer and the side of a rotating glass bowl. The overall affect was transcendent—like music emitting from light itself.

There will always be some sense of magic in the alchemical processes of working with glass. At once scientific and strange, this reconciliation of opposites is at the center of Emily Nachison's artistic practice. Trained in fiber, Nachison now works largely with kiln-formed glass. Her inspiration comes from diverse sources including New Age pseudo-spirituality, metallurgy, fairy tales, and Victorian decorative arts. She interweaves traces of narrative with suggestions of natural form to create large-scale installations that suggest a tangled wildness—a ghostly apparition of nature, rendered in delicate glass.

Nachison's recent exhibition at Bullseye Projects (Portland, OR), "Dark Ecologies," (on view at Bullseye Resource Center in New York, August 25 – November 14, 2015), featured new work integrating objects cast in glass with elemental materials such as leather, horsehair, and stainless steel. Garland (2014), Crystal Cord (2014), and Counting Cord (2014) are a trio of larger-than-life necklaces weighted down with heavy increments of branch-like forms. The translucent fragments are strung together like the beads of an abacus or the bones of a spinal cord—a very intentional appeal to our visceral senses that resonates with an uncanny perceptual shift.

Nachison forces her viewers to become aware of their embodied presence in the gallery—through the tactility of the works themselves, or as a result of one's close proximity to a material emblematic of fragility and preciousness. Her installation Metonic Transfiguration (2014), is comprised of a series of cast glass specimens hanging delicately in mid-air from pressed-glass plates. Through the work's narrative sequence, a crystalline fragment transforms into a branch, which evolves slowly into a mushroom, and then to a murky pool collected on the bottom of the plate. Based on the lifespan of the ink cap mushroom, this installation points to the glassmaking process itself—its alchemy, and its potential to transform raw, elemental earth into something beautiful, entirely unexpected, and a bit magical.

“Pump jack”,  Andy Paiko

“Pump jack”, Andy Paiko

" Metonic Transfiguration ", Emily Nachison

"Metonic Transfiguration", Emily Nachison

“Untitled(Inflatable) no.46p,”,  Matthew Szösz

“Untitled(Inflatable) no.46p,”, Matthew Szösz

" Resonance ",  Anna Mlasowsky

"Resonance", Anna Mlasowsky

Cranbrook Academy of Art Visiting Artist Lecture, March 29, 2015

Lecture: "Emily Nachison: Materiality and the Metaphysical"
Sunday, March 29, 4:00pm, Cranbrook Academy of Art

"Materiality and the Metaphysical"

The act of measuring and observing creates meaning: assigning values to specific units and magnitudes enables us to quantify vast distances, establish time, and compare scale. Emily Nachison’s artwork explores measurement as the link between the metaphysical pseudo-sciences of the 17th century, historic mythmaking, and contemporary spirituality. In her talk Nachison will discuss her use of story, symbols, and materiality to mythologize natural phenomena. Within her work, mythology, scientific history, and New-Age idealism become starting points for an investigation into the creation of meaning and the formation of knowledge. Nachison graduated from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. She is currently the Fiber Department Chair and a visiting faculty member at the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, Oregon.

Sponsored by the Cranbrook Fiber Department

Additional Lecture information available online at:

Cranbrook Academy of Art
39221 Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303

Bad at Sports Interview: Little Ghosts of Alchemy and Magic

Little Ghosts of Alchemy and Magic: A Conversation with Emily Nachison
January 21, 2015 by Sarah Margolis-Pineo  
Read interview online:

Crystalline Conversion , 2013

Crystalline Conversion, 2013

As a kid, I felt betrayed by the cheery optimism peddled by Disney. My sisters and I were raised on the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, gleaning magic from the gloom and gore of The Little Match Girl, The Red Shoes, and The Little Mermaid. When Ariel wasn’t turned into sea foam at the end of the 1989 animation, I thought, (in 8-year old terms): What the fuck was that?! I found the idea of pitting one’s desire against excruciating pain thrilling and, indeed, necessary for any sort of moral to resonate. After visualizing little red shoes dancing away on severed legs, anything G-rated will inevitably disappoint.

I never asked during the course of our interview, but I’m guessing that Portland-based artist Emily Nachison had a similar childhood experience. In a recent artist talk, she cited a German folktale, The Seven Ravens, a story about a girl who frees her seven brothers from imprisonment in a glass mountain by cutting off one of her fingers to use the bone as a key. Nachison was drawn to this particular tale, firstly, for its depiction of glass, (her media of choice), as a simultaneously ethereal and earthly substance that combines the allure of a crystalline surface with the weight of a tomb. Secondly, she was inspired by the relationship between body and natural world. Like the girl’s finger, much of Nachison’s work hints at the possibility of portals—keys—leading to realms a bit more magical than the world we currently understand to exist.

Though curious about fairy rings and New Age pseudo-spirituality, Nachison is equally versed in Victorian approaches to nature in decorative arts. Her installations are clean yet luminous, featuring pieces created from kiln-formed glass combined with few elemental materials such as leather, horsehair, and stainless steel. Her work can suggest a tangled wildness—a ghostly apparition of nature rendered in delicate glass. Equally, it can bring to mind an alchemical process developed in a laboratory and exhibited in a museum of natural history. Or, Nachison can draw from craft-based traditions of weaving and metallurgy, creating objects that are best understood when worn on the body or held in hand.

Regardless of scale, Nachison’s process is ultimately the subject at hand. Glass making is at once highly scientific and a bit mysterious. To create her forms, the artist casts specimens collected in nature—mushrooms, crystals, and branches—manipulating the molds by hand to construct an uncanny landscape, increment by increment. Then, she meticulously measures her silica mixture, pouring it into the molds to be fired. The alchemy behind glass production—transforming sand into something of profound value—illustrates humanity’s capacity to master materiality, creating things that are functional and beautiful from raw earth. In the midst of all her scientific calculations, Nachison still manages to question our understanding of the world and how we quantify its forces. Alluding to the history of scientific advancement, her work embraces the unknown, suggesting there are always multiple truths—it’s up to us to remove the finger and surrender to the magic.

I spoke to Emily Nachison last summer in her studio.

Deliquesce , 2012

Deliquesce, 2012

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: Has the natural world always played a significant role in your life, and subsequently, in your work? How has your relationship with the natural world changed since relocating from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, (by way of Baltimore, San Francisco and Detroit)?

Emily Nachison: It’s always been a part of my life, but since moving to Oregon, spending time outdoors has become central to my practice. As a child, I liked to sit and count things in the backyard, and then in undergrad and graduate school, I became interested in folklore and Victorian traditions of categorizing and cultivating nature. I like to consider the ways we organize and think about nature. What does it mean to create a garden? What does it mean to impose order on the natural world? My work started as being about nature and our relationship with the outdoors, but slowly, it’s become more about the ways we quantify it—trying to understand and create meaning from every encounter. Since moving to Oregon, my inquiry became more about my own experiences–about foraging and gathering.

I grew up in Southern California in a pretty New Age environment, and that colored my perspective for a very long time. I’m very interested in science and how we understand the world, but I’m also very interested in the desire to find some sort of magic in nature—even if it doesn’t exist. For me, making work is a way of having another headspace to go into. I go outdoors to seek inspiration, and in the studio, I use that experience to wander in alternative space. This is where nature and magic come together, and that combination of forces is revealed in my work.

Portal,  2012

Portal, 2012

SMP: Besides the outdoors, where else do you go for inspiration?

EN: I cite folktales, certainly. The mushroom cycles, Portal (2012) for example, references these portals to other realms called Fairy Rings that are found in folktales. The mushroom cycles in my work are based on an actual type of mushroom called an ink cap. As they die, they release spores and melt into a puddle of ink. Reading about the ink cap mushroom began my interest in transition cycles, and I started exploring the transmutation of mass. From there, I began thinking about concepts around alchemy—transforming one material into another, as well as physics and the conservation of mass.

From the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (photo: Emily Nachison)

From the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (photo: Emily Nachison)

EN: Doing any sort of research about alchemy on the Internet usually makes me feel like I’m reading Harry Potter fan fiction. It was seeking out a more credible source that led me to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. The Beinecke houses a collection of alchemical manuscripts from the 14th to the 17th century. The Beinecke alchemical manuscript collection was founded by Mary Conover Mellon, a follower of Carl Jung who introduced his theories to the U.S. She went around buying manuscripts that he had used for his research into symbols and archetypes that led to his theories of the collective unconscious. I received a research grant to travel there, and I met with curator Kathryn James, who shared incredible works with me including the Voynich manuscript, which has its own cult following. The Voynich is from the 14th century and has all these incredible drawings of plants on vellum. At the time, these plants hadn’t been cataloged or studied to the extent that we know them today, and I found it fascinating that people were drawn to render them in such detail. Plants have a certain magic, and that was made clear looking through the manuscript.

Voynich manuscript (photo: Emily Nachison)

Voynich manuscript (photo: Emily Nachison)

SMP: So much of the evolution of human knowledge really demonstrates how little we do know about the world. Opening up the potential for magic is not only exciting, but it seems a necessary counterpoint to scientific understanding.

EN: People keep coming back to it! We accept that it doesn’t exist, yet it’s a constant theme within every cultural zeitgeist.
SMP: Can we talk about your use of glass? What drew you to it as a material coming from fiber and soft sculpture?

EN: In grad school, I had my world blown apart by a visiting critic who told me that all of my exploration into Carl Jung, the collective unconscious, etc., was all very New Age. I had no idea! At the time I was totally distraught, but it forced me to turn a corner. I began reading about the Victorian Age and the idea of lamenting the loss of nature. The Victorians created fake ruins with fabricated signs of age to solicit a sense nostalgia thus turning the natural world into something decorative. Glass became very popular during that time. It became more affordable. Paxton’s Crystal Palace was opened. Due to my interest in this time period, I became interested in using glass as a material. I wasn’t able to begin working with glass until I came to Oregon, where I first had access to resources and expertise in kiln-formed glass thanks to Bullseye Projects, an affiliate of Bullseye Glass Company.

The Realm of Quantifiable Truths installed at Bullseye Glass Gallery (2014)

The Realm of Quantifiable Truths installed at Bullseye Glass Gallery (2014)

EN: In my work I’m interested in transformation and how culture shapes our relationship with nature. Glass goes through an amazing chemical transformation when it is created and also has a physical preciousness and a culturally derived value. I’m interested in playing with these aspects of the material. Additionally, glass, for me, has a memorial tone. By casting natural objects, stones, plants, shells, etc., into glass, I transform them into relics. I give material form to something ethereal. Each piece is like a ghost.

SMP: The way you piece elements together to create a whole strikes me as possibly having roots in fiber.

EN: The unification of individual units was definitely part of my fiber education. My first forays into installation as a student consisted of elements, made in the studio, that were then joined in the gallery space. My work in in grad school and directly after moved away from this practice as I developed monumental scaled works where the elements were indistinguishable from the whole. Working in glass, however, brought this way of working back since scale is limited by the size of the kiln. One could argue that this practice is as rooted in glass—stained glass, mosaic, murrine, as much as it has roots in fiber.

Counting Cord (2014)

Counting Cord (2014)

SMP: You mentioned that the way you create these forms is very intuitive and, looking at them, I can certainly see more formal sculptural representation infused with the mystical—a combination of material and immaterial. Is it possible to describe how the forms come to be?

EN: The process of casting glass is not an intuitive process—it’s very much about applying correct calculations to produce a specific outcome. One of my favorite steps in glass casting is doing the weight calculations where you fill the cavity of your mold with water, measure the correct amount of water, and then you do a little equation to figure out how much glass that equals before measuring and pouring the glass into the mold to be fired. I like how working with glass forces me to slow down, think, and count. Before I was making very intuitive, somewhat aggressive work. This is a whole different pace.

Nachison in her studio (photo: Half-Cut Tea)   Nachison’s process is described in a short video by Half-Cut Tea.

EN: It’s through the process of creating and casting the wax forms that the intuitive part comes back in. What I do first is create a silicone mold of a natural object and then cast it in wax, I then spend time combining it with other cast wax forms, letting the individual pieces fall away through heating and reforming it. It’s easy to get lost in that.

SMP: There is so much mystery surrounding glass production still. Even in the Pacific Northwest, home of the studio glass movement, where glass production is perhaps more accessible than most places, there is a high-level of skill and access to resources that keeps the craft very shrouded and exclusive.

EN: Because of that, you don’t see glass appear in sculpture that often. When it does appear, it feels really rarified and special. I’ve always wanted to create work that feels like a relic—something captured in time, and glass works well for me in that respect.


Metonic Transfiguration, detail (2014)

Metonic Transfiguration, detail (2014)

SMP: I’d like to discuss the scale of your work. Some pieces have a very Craft-ness to them in that you can imagine the weight of them in hand or the feel of them being worn, whereas others definitely draw from the experience of a Fine Art sculptural installation. Is presenting these two shifts in the embodied relationship with the work crucial for you?

EN: My recent solo exhibition, The Realm of Quantifiable Truths (Bullseye Gallery, Portland, OR, 2014), was the first time I have used such a dramatic scale shift, but in all of my work I want the viewer to become aware of their body as they move through the space and also how they would relate bodily to each work. Combining these two types of relationships in one exhibition heightens the viewers’ awareness.

In addition to embodied installations, which make us conscious of space, I included works that referenced the human skeleton. I created the segmented branches to reference human finger bones. I was thinking about the idea of the finger as a form of measurement—using the human hand as a proto-ruler. The necklace-like pieces definitely speak to really heavy, unwieldy jewelry, but I also intended for the pieces to look like vertebrae. All together, the exhibition resembled a dismembered body that was been put back together again.

Divination Rods (2014)

Divination Rods (2014)

SMP: Can you imagine your work existing in a public venue besides a gallery?

EN: I’m not interested in moving existing works into non-gallery spaces, but I am interested in responding to and making work for specific venues. I am currently working on an installation for a three hundred year old barn in northern Scotland. Working in this entirely different space and responding to the environment and folklore of the area is a fantastic challenge. The installation will open in the summer of 2016. I would love to work inside a greenhouse. In particular, the large glass and steel structures that were popular during the Victorian period. These spaces embody many of the ideas that ideas that I explore in my work. Certainly working in a space like this would impact the form and conceptual direction of my work. I have been wanting to make work related to evaporation, but it makes little sense to pursue this in a gallery. A glass house, however, might be the ideal place.

Table of Material Contents (2014)

Table of Material Contents (2014)

Emily Nachison, born in San Diego, California, received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006 and a MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. Nachison lives and works in Portland, Oregon and is currently the Fiber Department Chair and a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Oregon College of Art and Craft.

Currently, Nachison’s work is featured in the exhibition, Dark Ecologies, on view at Bullseye Gallery through March 28.

All photography by Dan Kvitka unless credited otherwise.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo is a curator and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She is currently Associate Curator of Museum of Contemporary Craft.

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