Theatrical live glass-blowing finds an explosive crescendo

Artist Omer Arbel is all about inventing never before-seen methods. One of his latest techniques took centre stage at London Design Festival 2022, where Arbel – via his design and manufacturing brand, Bocci – brought live glass-blowing to the V&A.

Bocci, which has bases in both Vancouver and Berlin, is Arbel’s outlet for his creative methodology. “I want to somehow achieve a very unpredictable form,” he says, of the new sculpture series, 113. “Because the method is new, the shapes coming out of the method are also new.” The experience itself took place in the John Madejski Garden at the heart of the V&A, and is a new way of working for Arbel, given that he usually keeps these elements of his work “behind the scenes”.

Here, the journey to creating the object is what’s interesting, which is why he’s decided to showcase the work in real-time, as it evolves. Each glass-blowing performance is orchestrated by Arbel. “It's a piece of sheet music that I write,” he says. The “sheet” is then handed to the glass blower, and while the results are always different, Arbel always has a hand in “the musical score”.

His unconventional creative approach doesn’t stop there. A few years ago, Arbel took an interest in the coefficient expansion (the rate at which materials temporarily expand) of copper and glass. On finding that the timings were “almost exactly identical”, he realised he could combine the two. For this project, the glass blowers make the initial form, before liquid copper is poured into the shape. “As long as the two are hot, they're fine,” Arbel explains. “The copper takes the form of the interior of the glass piece – but then, of course, they start cooling together.”

This is where the magic begins. “The glass shatters off in this kind of theatrical way, and you're left with a shadow of the form in copper.” Because both materials are cooling at the same time, “the art captures the movement of this splashing liquid.” The music reaches its crescendo. “We don’t usually get to see the middle of an explosion,” Arbel notes. The V&A only served to enhance the narrative of this method. When the finished pieces leave the garden, they were placed in the museum’s Santa Chiara Chapel, a place of inspiration for Arbel. He mentions Clare of Assisi, the first woman to found a Catholic order – the Poor Clares, who resided in the chapel. In doing so, Clare of Assisi relinquished her high art and turned to craft and handiwork. “To exhibit these works at her chapel is quite interesting, as it has parallels to her story – something needs to be destroyed in order to create something new.”