Towards a glass monument, 2017–19

Stained glass, lead and steel frame in 2 screens 126 cm apart, each containing 20 lancets; each screen 495 × 559 cm; 6 cast bronze plaques; each 60 × 90 cm

Realised through Monash Art Projects, Melbourne; and Geoffrey Wallace Stained Glass, Melbourne.
 
 

Towards a glass monument is a large-scale permanent stained glass window work created with stained glass artisan Geoffrey Wallace, and commissioned by the University of Melbourne for the restored Old Quad, the University’s first building.

The work originated in two remarkable (lost) drawings from the early history of the north wing of the Old Quad, by the artists Arthur Bartholomew (1833–1909) and Ludwig Becker (1808–1861). These drawings both describe two Mesozoic ferns fossilised in sandstone (Gangamopteris angustifolia and Gangamopteris spatulata). They survive only as lithographs, as two consecutive pages in a publication amongst the most extraordinary to have been produced at this site: Prodromus to the Palaeontology of Victoria: or, Figures and Descriptions of Victorian Organic Remains, 1874, written by Frederick McCoy, one of the University of Melbourne’s first four professors. McCoy’s Prodromus (along with his Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria) was lavishly illustrated with lithographic drawings by a small group of artists, including Becker, but principally by Bartholomew, who was McCoy’s attendant at the University from 1859. Bartholomew worked for many years under the windows at the eastern end of the North Wing, creating drawings of natural forms that are amongst the most intricately beautiful drawings of nineteenth-century natural history. The designs for Towards a glass monument are ‘after’ these drawings, and are a homage to these two artists, to the Prodromus and to this extraordinary early moment in the history of the University.

 

 
Towards a glass monument comprises two stained glass screens at the northern entrance to the Old Quad. Each screen, housed within a metal frame, presents twenty lancets that would fill the windows of the East Bay and West Bay of the Old Quad. The work is accompanied by six plaques with texts that contextualise the work’s imagery through six narratives, imagining its possible placement into the historical lancets of the Old Quad but, above all, meditating on the act of imagining itself. The work is created with the hand-blown ‘antique’ glass of Glashütte Lamberts Waldsassen in Germany.

Perhaps unique to this project is the interaction between the two screens, which are located 126 cm apart. As the glass is animated by the changing light that passes through the north-facing windows and doors, a series of refractions, colourations and patterning between the two screens creates an unfolding experience of extraordinary intricacy, perceptual instability and elusive richness. The space between the two screens is also a space that viewers can enter, to be enfolded within the extraordinary properties of hand-blown glass, which can be enjoyed with an intimacy unusual for stained glass window works.

Towards a glass monument also responds to the presence of Napier Waller’s Leckie Window at the University of Melbourne, a complex work dedicated to allegorising creation itself. The university context of the Leckie Window richly links a problem in art to a problem of learning: How do things become? How do we become? How does one process of becoming precipitate another, and in doing so make us belong to one another, and to the world around us? Towards a glass monument attempts to respond to the legacy of the Leckie Window as well as to these abiding questions about what comes into being at a university. On the one hand, the work is archaeological, both in alluding to the early history of the university but also, in a much deeper sense, in imaging a form from a radically earlier moment in the history of life on this planet. On the other hand, Towards a glass monument images the intricacy and beauty of becoming – in a botanical and an artistic sense. It attempts to make a form of and for the process of becoming, one that also implies what unfolds within each student, within each teacher, and in the futures that a university contains.

 

 

Stained glass: Geoffrey Wallace; artist’s assistant: Jamie O’Connell; design of plaques: Ziga Testen


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