2017 Essay | PGC Dissolution

2017 Essay | PGC Dissolution

Two Artists Deconstructed Ideas Build a New Landscape

By Heather McElwee

Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Dissolution, Panel I, 2016
Hand blown and slumped glass
15 x 16 x .5 inches
Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Glass Rooftop, 2016
Furnace worked glass, wood and steel
62 x 62 x 38 inches

Two evolve into one in Dissolution, a collaborative exhibition by Pittsburgh artists Seth Clark and Jason Forck. The two artists came together through a mutual interest in Americana landscape and the concept of abstraction through decay. This is the first time Clark, a collage artist, and Forck, a glass artist, collaborated in the creation of an exhibition.

Dissolution, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, is a result of a one-year Idea Furnace residency at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC). Clark and Forck spent 2016 experimenting with many different traditional and innovative methods and materials.

Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Bound, 2016
Furnace worked glass and wood
84 x 16 x 12 inches
Jason Forck
Collapse, 2016
Furnace worked glass and steel
36 x 12 x 6 inches

Collaboration and creative exchange are important parts of the artist experience at PGC. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than when working in a new media. Pittsburgh Glass Center supports artists working outside of glass through the Idea Furnace program. It gives artists the opportunity to explore a new material and create a body of work with the help of an established glass artist. The program was created to bridge the gap between glass and other art and design media. It educates artists about glass, gives them access to the material, and helps them advance their ideas. It also challenges glass artists to think more broadly about the material of glass, to approach it in a new ways, and to find out-of-the box solutions to complex design challenges.

The Idea Furnace program has been in place since 2012, but Clark and Forck’s residency and exhibition took the program to a new level. Over the course of the program, it became clear that the synergy between glass artists and artists unfamiliar with glass held more than just creative potential. The process of collaboration and exchange became just as important as the outcome. Historically non-glass artists have been given the chance to work with glass artists, but in this case the two artists looked at the collaboration as a two way street. The yearlong residency provided ways to chart new creative directions for both artists. This was the first time either artist has collaborated with another artist on a joint exhibition. It was a valuable exercise in articulating ideas, compromise and co-creation. Despite having different backgrounds the two artists have a complimentary way of looking at the world.

Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Glass Spire, 2016
Furnace worked glass, wood and nails
88 x 48 x 48 inches

Clark grew up in Seekonk, Massachusetts and studied close to home in Providence at the Rhode Island School of Design. He earned his BFA in graphic design, focusing primarily on print design and alternative typography. During this time, he discovered collage. This method of hands-on, spatial development took a major role in his digital work as well as his physical works on wood and paper. Clark was a 2-D artist and started experimenting with 3-D forms in 2015. He looked to Forck’s expertise as a sculptor for guidance.

Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Silo, 2016
Furnace worked and kiln formed glass and steel
36 x 36 x 60 inches

Forck was raised on a small farm in Kansas and much of his work references the Midwest experience. Imagery such as barns, wheat, and farm life make regular appearances in his work. Forck received his BFA with an emphasis in glass and painting from Emporia State University. Since Forck’s work has been historically representational, he looked to Clark to help him combine abstraction with familiar images.

Clark and Forck spent several months working together, teaching each other, and experimenting with various techniques. They were attracted to the aesthetics of buildings and architectural systems that are dissolving and dissipating. Dissolution describes their work formally in terms of architecture in collapse, but it also describes their collaboration in terms of disassembling ideas and then bringing them back together. They went through a thoughtful planning process and a lot of discussion to bring their two different mindsets together into one cohesive exhibition that includes multiple collaborative works, and works made individually.

Seth Clark and Jason Forck
Dissolution (Installation of 30 Panels, Detail), 2016
Hand blown and slumped glass
70 x 42 x .5 inches
Seth Clark
Barn III, 2016
Collage, charcoal, pastel, acrylic and graphite
60 x 48 x 1.5 inches

Dissolution demonstrates the innovation, quality, and diversity of work that can result from creative collaborations and exchange.

On display are panels of blown glass collage aptly named Dissolution in which shards of broken glass were layered into a kiln and fused together. The artists started by blowing large very thin glass orbs in the glassblowing studio. They used small pieces of color so that when blown out even opaque colors like white became opalescent. Then they broke the orbs into pieces and those shards of glass were stacked into the kiln. The stacks of shards were up to 10 inches high. When fused they became less than a quarter of an inch thick. Each panel was then restacked and re-fired until the perfect composition of pattern, color and opacity was reached. One large installation in the exhibition includes 27 of these panels assembled together.

Residency Image
Jason Forck (back) and assistant blowing glass shards
while Seth Clark (left) observes
Jason Forck and Seth Clark looking over shards
created in the glassblowing studio. These shards
are the basis for all the Dissolution panels

The shards created from blowing the large thin orbs were used in a totally different way in another work in the exhibition. In the piece Silo, shards of glass are stacked inside a 3-foot high round wire mesh cylinder with a very delicate roof like structure made of pâte de verre glass hanging over the form. Sound is an interesting component of the piece as the shards settled from their own weight and made a soft crumpling noise. The artists said that they had to refill the silo several times over the course of the three-month exhibition in PGC’s Hodge Gallery in order to compensate for the settling of the shards of glass.

Two, 6-foot, 3-D installations called Glass Spire and Glass Rooftop are made of wood, metal, and glass. They combine the aesthetics and techniques of both artists. The forms remind you of a church steeple or an architectural dome, but also allude to fragility with the addition of glass slats.

Another work in the exhibition Bound is a large 6-foot tall sculpture consisting of several reclaimed wood beams that appear to be bound together by glass wire. The tension in the work comes from not only the fragility of the thin thread of glass holding together the large heavy beams, but also from the contrast of the smooth clear glass against the rough worn dark wood.

Additionally, Clark displays his signature 2-D collages, plus new structures that include pâte de verre glass. Forck exhibits a series of collapsing barn structures along with multiple interpretations of the Americana landscape to round out the exhibition.

There is something so familiar about the work in the exhibition, and yet the work is so unique. It invites a level of comfort from the viewer because it is imagery that is instantly relatable. Everyone has seen a deteriorating structure that somehow gave pause because of its beauty. “People see the exhibition and say, this reminds me ‘of a road trip through small towns’,” said Forck. Dissolution is such a visual treat because Clark and Forck celebrate the beauty in the delicate balance between the derelict and the new.

in addressing for the first time the topic of collaboration in late twentieth and twenty-first century work in craft media. Such documentation points to the need for more in-depth study since these collaborations – even though relatively few and often short-lived – are critical to the ongoing dissolution of hierarchies in today’s art.   


Heather McElwee is the executive director of Pittsburgh Glass Center and oversees its residency and exhibition program. She has curated numerous exhibitions in PGC’s Hodge Gallery.  



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