ARLINGTON - A student in The University of Texas at Arlington's two-year-old Master of Fine Arts program has won an award in the major international kiln-formed glass competition for emerging artists, e-merge 2010.
Shannon Brunskill took the third place award for her work Things We Collect. Her work was among more than 1,200 pieces submitted to be juried for admission into the sixth biennial competition. Forty pieces by artists from 12 countries were chosen as finalists. The first place winner was from Australia, and the second place winner was from Israel.
The finalists' work will be on display at Bullseye Gallery in Portland, Ore., through June 18.
Brunskill's winning piece is a technically complex creation of cracked, crystal-clear glass within the frame of a discarded child-sized wagon. The work is an exceptional personal narrative and social commentary on the fragility of childhood and the aftermath of child neglect, said Professor David Keens, who heads the UT Arlington glass art program.
Keens said Brunskill's work breaks new ground in contemporary art glass.
"The work is unique in its exploration of combining actual objects with cast and deliberately cracked cast glass components," Keens said. "The technical problems in intentionally creating internal cracking in the glass, while still relieving its stress, have been very challenging."
When she began working with glass, Brunskill said, she focused on creating perfect objects. Then one afternoon while dismantling an old glass-melting furnace, she examined some of the abandoned, cracked pieces of glass.
"The internal fractures allowed light to dance around inside the glass," she said. "I thought it odd that something so inherently beautiful was going to be thrown away."
Brunskill said much of her current work employs iconic childhood symbols, such as the Radio Flyer wagon in her award-winner, a dollhouse, a tricycle and a rocking chair. She uses the familiar items to create hybrid objects, constructed from a combination of the actual parts and fabricated components. The fabricated components are cast of glass, which is then fractured.
"As I began working with ideas about the fragility of childhood and the aftermath of child neglect, the fractured and broken glass became paramount. The inherent fragility associated with glass that I fought for so long as I sought to create perfection was suddenly my biggest asset," she said.
Because the finished art has to be free of internal stress and safe for viewers, Brunskill thermal shocks the glass, leaving it with internal cracks that have no point of origin or impact, which she likens to the internal conflicts that adults live with as a result of their childhoods.
The individual objects she creates are designed to become parts of a larger installation, Brunskill said.
"This installation allows viewers to enter into a dark cold "play space" filled with toys, which are spotlighted from above so they glow in the light. The light will reflect in the cracked glass allowing it to dance around the internal plane of the object," she said. "Viewers will then have to question if the work is beautiful, despite the underlying messages about the childhood fragility, and the results of child neglect: beautiful people with deep fractures."
Brunskill, who earned a Bachelor's of Fine Art in glass from UT Arlington, is completing her second year of the three-year Master of Fine Arts program. Her e-merge 2010 award included a $500 gift card for glass arts supplies.
Brunskill, a graduate teaching assistant, said her post-MFA plans include continuing to teach and exhibiting her work.
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