The determined breaths of a glassblower are seldom included in the finished product of
their labour, yet a series of newly commissioned glass sculptures by Manchester-based
makers, Jahday Ford and Joseph Hillary, for their first major exhibition, Breathe, uses
innovative digital design and traditional glassblowing techniques to visualise blown air in
The series of multi-coloured, rippling glass sculptures, displayed at Manchester Craft & Design Centre in the heart of the city’s Northern Quarter, between Thu 8 February – Sat 12 May, represent an innovative mix of modern and traditional technologies.
The early stages of glass blowing, balancing heat and shaping molten glass by blowing
through a blowing iron, have been recorded by Hillary – by profession and education a
digital designer – as sound files, taking the delicate sound of his friend and collaborator,
Ford breathing through the iron itself.
From the audio files he creates a visual representation using CAD software, before the illustrated sound waves are then turned into a wooden mould to begin the process of encapsulating an ambient sound in a physical object. The final stage in creating the finished glasswork goes right back to the start of the process, with Ford blowing hot, coloured glass through the mould Hillary has prepared to create a highly-detailed pattern as a feature of the finished, glass sculpture.
rocess, with Ford blowing hot, coloured glass through the mould Hillary has prepared to create a highly-detailed pattern as a feature of the finished, glass sculpture.
The process has been one of ‘trial and error’, supported by specialist glass technicians, which has included the wooden moulds burning and filling the studio with smoke, an issue resolved by soaking the birch moulds in water first. Having mastered the process, the collaboration continues.
Hillary says: “Freezing the glassblower’s breath in the form of a sound wave and using that as the form of a newly blown piece of glass is our way of putting the identity of the maker back into the piece. We want to bring the two worlds of craft and digital design together to create work that pushes the material boundaries of glass itself. The origin of any hand blown glass vessel is the first breaths, an essential technique in the making process, so with these pieces the viewer is presented with a rare, three-dimensional representation of the origins of the item itself.”
Ford says: “Through experimentation, collaboration and study, I’ve tried to stretch the possibilities of form, material and experience as a maker. Both Joe and I found common ground as we both strive to find to methods of combining or manipulating a form, whether on a 2D or 3D basis, leading to completely new methods of working and exciting, experimental results.”
Meeting as students in Manchester, Bermuda-born Ford and Hillary, originally from Hertfordshire, formed the unlikely alliance of glassblower and digital designer, yet the combination of their distinct crafts has led to early acclaim with this exhibition opportunity presented to them as winners of Manchester Craft and Design Centre’s decade-long Graduate Award Programme, delivered in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University.
Kate Day, Director of Manchester Craft and Design Centre, says: “Over the last decade of the MMU Graduate Award Programme, we’ve seen many makers not only establish their own studios and making businesses, but also support new makers themselves as part of a North West and UK-wide community. We’re pleased to welcome Joseph and Jahday into that community by supporting them to create beautiful, new work for their first, major exhibition. The award recognises the fact that their practice combines human endeavour and digital innovation in such skilled and well-considered ways.”
Breathe and the MMU Graduate Award Programme are made possible with support from Arts Council England, Manchester City Council and The Radcliffe Trust.
Breathe by Jahday Ford & Joseph Hillary
Thu 8 Feb – Sat 12 May 2018
Manchester Craft & Design Centre, Oak Street, Manchester