Self Generating Forms by George William Bell

George William Bell’s work is defined by constant research and innovation of materials, and stands on the fine line between art, crafts and design. Combining glassmaking techniques in non-traditional formats and deconstructed forms, George William Bell’s work highlights a clear balance between the skill of the artisanal will and the autonomous expressions of materiality. Self Generating Forms’series marks an important material exploration applied to a human context and consumerist society by reusing copper from electronic waste.

The Beginning

George William Bell: The Self Generating Form project stems originally from a series of objects I produced in hot glass as a way to investigate abstract form. Working in collaboration with the innate fluid properties of molten glass I was able to create abstract amorphous shapes beyond human thought. Meaning that these forms could not be drawn or planned beforehand but are a direct result of the making process, a gesture of material and movement captured and preserved. These objects were however only ever meant to be a way of rapid prototyping abstract form, rather than finished pieces in themselves. As such I would sandblast the surface, matting it to opaque as a way to better perceive the object as one form. After some time though I had to admit to myself that something very interesting was happening. The contrast between thick and thin, opacity and translucency gave a subtle, poetic glowing quality to the inside of the form. As is so often the case the journey became more important than the initial goal, the path of discovery leading down many unknown roads.

The concept behind Self Generating Form

George William Bell: Through the Self Generating Form project I sought to reframe traditional technique and craftsmanship within a modern context, attempting to push forward boundaries of tactile material knowledge. In essence, these forms represent to me the inherent possibilities of working in collaboration with the material, a totem to a captured poetic moment in flux. My first experiences of glass came from my extensive apprenticeship in a glassblowing factory where the material was mastered and blown to millimetre precision. Eventually, I was also able to blow, push and mould my material into any form I desired. Over many years this brought me to the realisation that I was no longer surprised or excited by the work I was producing. This led directly to my current field of investigation in which my material mastery works in partnership with glass and its natural properties rather than dominating through technique. When seeking a new material voice it seemed pertinent to investigate alternative materials that traditionally have not been associated with glass production. It, therefore, seemed appropriate to look into the possibilities of waste materials, materials which due to our modern consumerist society are found in abundance, e-waste is one of the fastest-growing of all “with some 9 million tonnes generated in 2005, and expected to grow to more than 12 million tonnes by 2020”(European Commission). Using copper salvaged from electrical equipment I began to discover material possibilities yet unexplored, the ruff, bubbly tactile results working in perfect juxtaposition with the smooth, cold beauty of glass.

Copper waste

George William Bell: The purpose and meaning of copper waste within my work is two-fold. Firstly it is my belief that in order to step outside those traditional expressions of glass, you must look beyond the materials which make up the current accepted artistic pallet. In a sense, in order to innovate expression, you must first innovate material. Throughout history, artists and makers have harnessed the materials found in abundance within their environment. I see something intrinsically human in finding possibilities for artistic expression within the materials which are located within our direct surroundings. In this modern age of the Anthropocene, the materials we have available to us, are that of industrial waste. There is also something quite playful involved in using material waste as decorative elements within art objects. Objects which often find themselves within galleries and museums, something akin to a quiet revolution, where the public come to face their own material waste once disposed of and forgotten, elevated to art. Activision aside I do feel there needs to be a shift from disposal to re-use and innovation. Copper is a great example of this, as the raw material is actually a relatively expensive and endlessly reusable commodity and as such about 12 % is recycled into new products, unfortunately however it is so often the case that it becomes cheaper and easier to send electronic waste to landfill instead.

Developing process

George William Bell: The Self Generating Form series developed directly from a series of form sketches in which artistic intention and material movement were given equal importance. Building up a series of lumps on the surface of a blown glass bubble I created a frame or matrix. This was then gathered over with another layer of molten glass, which flowed over, around and in-between these glass lumps, quickly hardening into the final amorphous form. Starting in clear glass I began to experiment with the possibilities of colour. Finding that through the addition of coloured glass and due to the various thicknesses of glass, each object glowed with numerous expressions of light, giving the objects both depth and structure. I also began to experiment with the addition of alternative materials, eventually settling on copper electrical waste, being that it was a free and readily available source, as well as a very expressive material when combined with hot glass processes. As the series evolved I could see that the objects I was producing echoed one another, uniquely individual while clearly belonging to a family group of forms. This resulted in building up groups of forms which echoed with and complimented one another.

The Crafts of tomorrow

George William Bell: I am passionate about my material, an ancient material, which since its discovery has had innumerable applications. Glass in many ways is still on the cutting edge, its material properties being harnessed for spurring on the technological revolution. However, within the field of artistic innovation glass as well as the other materials of craft/ applied arts have been to some extent left behind. In order that craft continues to be relevant within contemporary society, we as makers must not be afraid to tackle current issues affecting modern society. Material understanding is such a primal instinct which exists at the core of our being. In the modern age, we are being denied these intrinsically human tactile encounters, as ever more of our time is taken up interacting with or staring at screens. As makers we need to prove our relevance, anchoring the public in a material understanding as well as using experimentation and innovation to push forward aesthetic possibilities, opening the door for future material development as well as creating form and surface which demand attention. Within my work tradition and innovation exist side by side. I have great respect for the history of glassmaking and of the traditional processes passed down through the generations. I have however always felt though that as a maker it has been my job to find areas within these traditional practices which I can challenge or explore, in search of a more personal and contemporary artistic expression.

The future of crafts in design

George William Bell: I believe there is a strong future for crafts within the design and the design process. In my work I harness my knowledge of the design process within material experimentation as a way to organize, interpret, and understand my research. From my experience, when design and craft knowledge work in collaboration with one another, that to me is where the really exciting possibilities for material innovation lie. In recent years the lines within the design and craft appear to have blurred, as the once traditional craft materials of ceramics and glass are now accepted within the field of design exploration and that of the autonomous object. A great example of this can be seen at KADK Design School, Bornholm, where I was educated and now work as part of the educational team. Here students attack classic design briefs but through the eyes of makers, makers who understand that materiality is rooted at the core of innovation. It is my personal opinion that the close partnership of design and craft will lead to the enrichment of both vocations.

Interview with George William Bell | Photography Kasper Kristensen.