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Honour Lackey, Creative Content & PR Intern
Nov 13, 2023
Read all about the unique partnership between exhibiting artist Sahar Khoury and the faculty and staff who make art from molten glass.
In Sahar Khoury’s Umm, an autumn 2023 exhibition commissioned by The Wexner Center for the Arts, the artist’s background as an anthropologist and persistent interest in items abandoned and re-assembled anchor her sculptures, which are inspired by her own familial history. In an exciting collaboration between Khoury and Ohio State’s Glass Department, students under the guidance of Ohio State Visiting Assistant Professor David King helped to realize Khoury’s vision.
King, an experienced glass artist and twice a fellow at Wheaton Arts, explained that Khoury and Lucy Zimmerman, the curator of the exhibition, reached out to him in early May with the ideas that would become pieces in Khoury’s work. “Sahar had her idea for the project pretty well sorted out,” King says. “A Palestinian oil nightlight. She wanted glass vessels that she could fill with this imported olive oil, and a big double walled vessel to put inside this neon sign.”
These glass vessels were created by King and his students, some of whom were learning the process of creating bottles for the first time. “We were kind of developing the forms together," King says. "I was doing some teaching in that space, but everybody was trying different things. I'd say we were all designing together,” With consultation from Khoury, King described the shapes of each bottle as slumpy and naturalistic.
“It depends on the size and the complexity, but the bottles we were making probably took about 20 minutes each,” says King. He emphasized the trial and error of the process—for every successful bottle, you could count on two unsuccessful ones. (And some of the vessels that didn't work for Khoury's project are currently available for purchase at the Wexner Center Store.)
With around 10 bottles chosen for the final piece, the time-consuming process was made easier by Khoury’s request for less traditional silhouettes. “The process we went through was to take a hot glass bubble and let it drip onto a board on the ground, then blow into it. So, it was really forming naturally with gravity.”
Given the artist’s anthropology background, it comes as no surprise Khoury was drawn to these more organic shapes, and King—an artist with a similar interest in reclamation and natural elements—understood this vision completely.
“The bottles were not super complicated because they weren't transferred,” King says. This, he said, meant that even his students who were less experienced were able to contribute to the process. “Most objects, you would blow in one direction, and then transfer them onto another pipe and turn it around… but for these objects, because they were to be formed very naturally, we broke them off and just sort of torched the top. [This was] a little more efficient, and also removed more of the control from us, which was a good thing in this case.”
David King and Ohio State students shape a glass bottle by constantly turning and firing the glass on a workbench.
King says working with Khoury was a mutually beneficial experience. “Sahar understood what our mission is here in terms of an educational program, because she teaches, and she wanted to work with us because she knows it's a unique opportunity to work with a university glass area and not every university has these kinds of facilities. She was really respectful of who we are and what we're doing here.”
Curator Lucy Zimmerman also reflected on the positive experience she had working with Khoury. “A great joy in working with Sahar Khoury has been to see how her process unfolds," Zimmerman says. "She often experiments with new materials or seeks alternative techniques, learned through an extensive and generous community of artists and technicians in the Bay Area. I am always eager to forge opportunities for collaboration with Ohio State faculty, staff, and students, and was delighted upon reaching out [to King] that he and his students were game to create bottles to hold this incredible Palestinian olive oil Khoury purchased from a store called Healthy Spirits in San Francisco.”
Zimmerman also remarked on King and the students’ work. “I visited David and his students in May to view the bottles and to observe ant attempt to blow the massive, double walled vessel placed on the top of this sculpture that encases a Camel cigarette neon—a cartoonish, appropriated symbol of the Middle East,” she says. “They even allowed me gather glass from the kiln, which was equally thrilling and terrifying!”
Sahar Khoury, Untitled (Palestinian olive oil nightlight), 2023. Powder-coated steel, neon, Plexiglass, glass, and Palestinian olive oil, single village edition, Burqa-Nablus region, 2022, 100 x 24 x 24 in. Commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Courtesy of the artist; Canada, New York; and Rebecca Camacho Presents, San Francisco. Photo: Robert Divers Herrick
Like King, Zimmerman says the experience was something special. “It was so meaningful to spend time with students and David King to discuss translating Sahar’s vision. I was grateful to see the amazing facilities and equipment students have access to at Ohio State, which are particularly special at a time when many universities are shuttering glass programs.”
Upon viewing the exhibition, King said, “I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s really playful and humorous and it’s poignant. It’s important work, but it’s accessible work.”
Except where noted, images and video: Lucy Zimmerman