Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Glassism, cubism and futurism

Several post ago, I alluded to the recent innovation of an interior wall of glass blocks that transformed the house I grew up in from a quasi country cottage to one with, er, an interior wall of glass blocks. What is the connection between glass and modernism? Modernist buildings tend to use copious amounts of glass; glass that was first manufactured en mass in the foundries of the nineteenth century. Glass may appear to be a static substance but it is not. Glass is made primarily of silica, a substance drawn from sand and gravel. When molten it can be moulded into a variety of shapes – think of glass ornaments.

It can be rolled into flat sheets, or rounded forms, or cut into blocks. Glass can be plain, coloured, frosted, muted, gilded or polarised, rendering it impervious to UV rays. During the day a mirrored glass building reflects the surrounding world; the tide of moving traffic and pedestrians at ground level. Further up it reflects the ever-changing vista of sky and cloud. At night, light inside a building renders its inhabitants visible to the outside world. How about a movement in art called glassism?

Cubism in art was a blossoming of futurism, a movement sparked off in 1909 by Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto. In painting, futurism and cubism are concerned with the representation of dynamism and movement. When you try to perceive the world through a wall of glass blocks, you see it reproduced as many times as there are blocks and reduced in size. Not the real world, you may say, but what is the real world? No doubt painters like Picasso and Carra pondered on this as they created their images of worlds splintered and distorted in many ways.

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