Brina Steblovnik: „The content of my work is often based on critical thinking concerning glass making, which is disappearing in my country or the social aspects of our society.“

Brina Steblovnik (1993 *), Slovenian glass artist came to the Czech Republic to study at Rony Plesl Glass Studio at the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. Her minimalist conception of work with a clear visual expression is also influenced by the study of architecture that she has completed in Ljubljana. We talked about her current work but also about the differences she perceives in the study of glass in both countries about inspiration in architecture and decadence. At the moment, however, due to a pandemic situation she has to finish her diploma thesis back in Slovenia. How she is facing the changes and what new ideas this global crisis has brought her you will find out in our inspiring interview.

Brina Steblovnik | glass artist

You have started your art career by studying architecture at the Ljubljana University. Then you chose glass and ceramic as your preferred field at the Academy of Art and Design in Ljubljana. How would you describe the influence of both the architectural and applied approach in your artwork?

I think architecture studies opened my eyes to aesthetics. For the first time, I started to analyse the buildings in my surroundings. My thoughts about the structure and technical execution of objects started to expand and the use of computational software. I learned I was talented in drawing and wanted to further develop my artistic skills, hence a change in study direction. At Ljubljana’s Academy, I was still quite unsure of how to merge the new knowledge with my previous studies. I just allowed myself to learn all I could, freely. In time, I developed my conceptual thinking and started to include 3D modelling as part of my artistic process. Combined with 3D printing and retouching, I can create perfect models, used in glass casting and is an ideal merge of my digital and manual process. I also still find Architecture as a source of inspiration; for example, I am a big fan of brutalism, Slovenian modernists, and their “father”, Jože Plenik. I have found myself living in places that he used to live. I studied in his studio at the faculty of Architecture. Similarly, he worked at UMPRUM, which is where I also studied, and currently, I live 50m away from his Ljubljana home.

Brina Steblovnik | Crystal Carafe | foto: Anna Pleslová

You are currently studying the international program of Visual Arts at UMPRUM in Prague. What led you to decide to move and study in Prague?

I was searching for the Applied Arts study program abroad for my master studies because I felt the need to move over the borders of Slovenia and experience life abroad. I knew Czech Republic had a great tradition in studio glass, especially with cast glass. However, it was not until I traveled to the North of Czech (Desna, Novy Bor, Harrachov, Jizerske Hory) that I was truly taken by the beauty of nature and the incredible glass makers community. I visited UMPRUM and really liked the charming and well-equipped workshops, so I hastily applied to study there. I also think VA program was the best choice. Studying and making friends with people from all over the world was the best experience.

Brina Steblovnik | Crystal Carafe | foto: Anna Pleslová

In the atelier of glass, you are under the supervision of Rony Plesl, and you have created some interesting vases. How has your approach to glass making changed in his atelier?

I really like working with Rony and after meeting him, I formed a great respect for him. I feel he has an amazing artistic drive, and he is a great pedagogue too. He is critical and can show you when you are going in the wrong direction, but he always leaves you positively motivated after consultation. I like his problem-solving attitude, direct approach, poetic thinking and his demand for perfect execution. He influenced me the most by giving me examples of where I should set my goals for implementation without undermining the need for the right, simple, yet strong thought behind my work. I believe I was also changed by the studio parties, haha,  which taught me that the reward outlet and community building are as vital for creation as hard work. I gathered a bunch of great memories during those two years.

How would you compare the studies in Prague with Ljubljana? Is the approach to art somehow different?

I see a big difference in possibilities for production and the technical knowledge that students receive. In Ljubljana there is sadly not enough financial support for the studio to be fully equipped. There are also not enough personnel with technical skills to learn from. Glass blowing studios don’t exist in Slovenia, so you are forced to work with kiln-forming techniques in smaller sizes. Prague is a perfect place to learn these crafts. On the other hand, Ljubljana Academy has an excellent theoretical department, supporting critical thinking about the design practice itself. The environmental, sustainable, socially critical design practice is something still very poorly represented at UMPRUM.

Brina Steblovnik | Zátiší | foto: Anna Pleslová

How would you rate your studies at UMPRUM in Prague? What would you say would be the biggest gain for your work?

I think I learned a lot about the execution and practical glass making, which was my goal.  When you are confronted with new experiences, it is surprising how many things we learn and gain. A pleasant surprise for me was attending lectures in philosophy presented by Václav Janoščík. I learned a great deal about the history of Art and Design in Czech Republic, gained contacts for possible future work opportunities while making friends with some great people.

Do you remember why you chose glass as an expression of art?

I actually never consciously decided to study glass when I enrolled at Ljubljana Academy. I was more interested in ceramics, but once I learned about the history and glass-forming techniques, I became enchanted by it. I hear a lot of glass artists or designers had a similar experience. The beauty of this material with all its visual potentials (interaction with light, frosted or polished surface, translucency and transparency, depth in the cast piece) allows an artist to easily show sublime and spiritual content. This is what I like the most about glass and the fact that it keeps challenging you through technology.

Brina Steblovnik | Fiskars vases | foto: Iztok Nikolič

I would say that I can see a strong emphasis on minimalism in your artwork and fine, high-quality workmanship. How would you characterise your work?

Well, I enjoy achieving conceptual clarity, which demands clear visual language. That is why minimalism creeps into my work. On the other hand, it might also be a visual influence from previous architectural studies and current work. Recently including computational sculpting in my process, this minimalist note might be even more apparent. It was never a conscious decision, it just seems that order and intricate geometric details are an important part of my thinking process.

How would you describe your creative intention?

The content of my work is often based on critical thinking concerning glass making, which is disappearing in my country or the social aspects of our society. For example my artwork, Still Life, was created with the idea to depict our era as a time of frozen, stone-like matter. Therefore, our society is unable to battle the environmental or social crisis on our horizons and facing a fruitless future. On the other hand, the Fighter’s Carafe is more positivistic piece, calling to action for a fight to cherish and preserve the knowledge of glass craft, which is being challenged by cheap industrial production. Therefore my creative intention is always based on these acute social grounds.

Brina Steblovnik | Crystal Carafe | foto: Anna Pleslová

There are a few pieces of yours that took my attention. One of them is the Fiskars Vase, a minimalictioc clean design vase with a pair of scissors jabbed in it. Can you tell me how this unconventional piece was created?

The story of the Fiskars Vase is directly connected to a Slovenian company where it was created. It is a classic story of a company, being sold to offshore stakeholders in order to survive. However, the foreign owners often do not care about the local brand identity, which is deeply important for the people working there, coming from generations of glass-making families and resting their dignity in their manual labor. It was heartbreaking for me to see how their company cultural inheritance is being disregarded. The vases were created as a gift for visiting owners and were meant to point to this problematic issue.

Another of your artworks is a decadent and also playful piece called the Swinging Chandelier.  Could you tell me more about the concept and making of this piece?

This chandelier was produced for a Glass studio with the topic being Party. I aimed to show the decadency as my inspiration for this topic was the Czech movie Daisies (Sedmikrasky) by Věra Chytilová. This project also represents my first experience of Prague and UMPRUM – a mystical, ecstatic nonchalant freedom, combined with the superb craft and tradition. The project was realised by Wranovsky Crystal s.r.o, a kind, family owned company who was opened enough for such a crazy project. 

Brina Steblovnik | Houpací lustr | foto: Anna Pleslová

Did you try swinging on it yourself?

I did try, but not over the river, where the photographs have been taken. That photoshoot was an absolute nightmare actually. We were planning for a calm shoot, but were instead faced with the weather apocalypse. Anna Pleslova (the photographer) did a great job nevertheless and Jakub Peter (the party expert model) was forced to unleash his full extremist potential in the crazy cold. I just hoped no one got sick after that evening and am still very grateful for their collaboration. Looking back, that project was very epic and I hope to develop it in the future.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on my master thesis at UMPRUM, which has been thoroughly influenced by the pandemics restrictive measures. This time has forced me to think differently about how to create freely in quarantine. As a result, my work will be completely digital – in the form of animation and renderings as reflection on our grave mental states after such a long time of social distancing, constant stress, dread and death. I will try narrate the story through the analogy between the body and the material of glass. The final piece will bee seen at the UMPRUM graduation show in June.

Brina Steblovnik | Houpací lustr | foto: Anna Pleslová
Brina Steblovnik | Houpací lustr | foto: Anna Pleslová

How did you learn about the project GoodbyGlass and why did you become a part of it?

I was invited to cooperate by Dagmar Petrovická, whom I met at Hut Frantisek, Sazava. She told me about the platform and what it strives to do – represent creatives, working with glass, offering group exhibitions and a web platform to sell glass pieces. I liked this initiative a lot and wanted to join. I find it very beneficial for these kind of initiatives to offer help to creatives who may be exceptional at their art or craft, but don’t like to deal with selling or promoting as much – which is often the case. In the highly industrialised era, it is important to communicate the value of manual skill, such as glass forming.

How did the Covid19 pandemic affect you, your studies and your work?

The pandemic effected me greatly. I was forced to leave Prague and returned to Ljubljana, where I work as a product designer and am working on the thesis on distance. I felt very frustrated being separated from the workshops and manual work, which ignited a big creative struggle. It made me search other options for expression. Beside the digital path I took in the context of the master thesis, I started painting again (in oils and egg tempera) after years.

Brina Steblovnik | Houpací lustr | foto: Anna Pleslová

Do you have a specific art goal that you would like to achieve?

Setting up my own small studio for artistic cast glass and cold-working is my personal goal. I will be able to freely practice (even in the event of the next virus crisis 😀 ) this way and enable other people to get in touch with creative glass in Slovenia. This is my long-term plan for the future, the short-term would be to get through this corona crisis by returning to painting – I have plans for water and glass studies over the coming summer.

Will we see you in Prague together with your work after your studies finishes?

I certainly hope so. Even though I will return to Slovenia, Prague is a few hours drive and I will surely come to execute some pieces here in the future. Prague has become something of a second home during these two years of studies, so I will always gladly return.

Brina Steblovnik (1993 *), Slovenian artist was born in Ljubljana where she studied Architecture at the University. Later she has chosen glass and ceramics at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana. Her interest in deepening her glassmaking practice and her desire to learn other type of environment brought her to Rony Plesl Glass Studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague where she attends the international VISUAL ARTS program. Her work is based on clear visual expressioon that is influenced by minimalism architecture and her study of product design. Recently she has been using computer simulations where the minimalist line is even clearer. She is  a part of the goodbyGlass project where she presents her art. She is currently working on her dissertation and plans to establish an art studio in Ljubljana.

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