The breath of glassblowers isn’t usually visible in the finished products of their labour.
But Manchester-based creatives Jahday Ford and Joseph Hillary are changing that with a new exhibition at the Manchester Craft & Design Centre.
Breathe uses innovative digital design and traditional glassblowing techniques to visualise blown air in sculptural forms.
The concept came about when both digital designer Joe and glassblower Jahday were students at Manchester Metropolitan University and thought about a way to combine their skills and create something unique.
“I approached the idea to bond these two arts,” says Jahday. “It was a fusion of his process of digitally processing wood and my glassblowing technique.”
They took inspiration from the work of British graphic designer Michael Eden who collaborated with a European glass studio to create an Audrey Hepburn-shaped lamp.
“We realised you can create these impossible objects using digital manufacturing,” says Joe, “so we came up with the idea of really capturing the craftsman’s hand in the piece.”
When they first started working on their project, they had no idea what the outcome would be.
“Not even the technical instructor who helped us, with 20 years of experience behind him, knew what will happen so it was all about belief in the process that something will come from it.”
They started by recording Jahday’s blows with an i-phone in the glass studio at their university. After that, Joe used computer software to illustrate the sound waves which were turned into wooden moulds.
That’s how the process of encapsulating an ambient sound in a physical object began.
The final stage in creating the finished glasswork goes right back to the start of the process, with Jahday blowing hot, coloured glass through the mould Joe has prepared.
Their technique raises the bar for what can be achieved when working with glass, as craftsmen could actually create more meaningful pieces– as they could potentially quite literally say something– instead of only serving as decorations.
“The process was one of trial and error,” says Jahday. “We had to find a bond between the glass, the wood mould and the digital process. There were a lot of hiccups, the glass broke sometimes, the polishing phase was quite difficult as well, but it was all a great adventure.”
He laughs reminiscing about the time one of the wooden moulds caught fire.
“There was so much smoke I choked and we couldn’t see anything. That’s when we realized we were actually doing something dangerous. After our third attempt we got it right and it’s then we started to adapt the colours and look at creating metallic effects and so on.”
The exhibition will host around ten or twelve pieces, as they don’t want it to be “too crowded’ and will showcase the wooden moulds. They will also present a video which aims to better explain the creative process.
“We struggled to get the idea across because it is quite conceptual, so we hope the video will do that,” says Joe. “I’m so excited! It’s been like a long time coming.”
Manchester Craft & Design Centre 8 February – 12 May 2018.