Glass blowing is an art defined by tradition. There are a set of techniques taught to nearly every glass blower, and your skill in the trade is dependent on your ability to perfect those finite techniques.
“Glass blowers have many rules amongst themselves,” explained Japanese designer Oki Sato to Design Boom last month. Sato’s collection of five remarkably experimental blown glass designs premiered last month at Salone del Mobile. “It was my job to say ‘it’s OK, you can do this.'”
Sato, who runs the office Nendo, was invited to collaborate on the collection with Czech glass blowing company Lasvit last year. Lasvit’s mission is to preserve the “thousand-year-old Bohemian tradition of glassmaking, using procedures and handicraft passed down through generations.” But the company is also interested in pushing forward the craft, regularly inviting up-and-coming designers like Sato to visit the workshop and riff on what they learn.
Sato visited the shop more than six times over the past year, talking with the artisans and asking them to try unusual experiments with their craft. The pieces in their collaboration, Still & Sparking are directly descended from their experiments.
Inhale, for example, is created by a glassmaker exhaling to form the shape of the lamp, then sucking air back in to create a vacuum-formed texture. Innerblown is another subversive piece: in it, a technician (or two, or three) puts a piece of molten glass into a steel box and blows until it takes on the shape of the box, or slightly overflows. The bench looks like a souffle. The Overflow table makes an intentional “mistake.” To make poured glass tables, molten glass is poured like water from above, into a steel frame. Sato removed a section of the steel frame, allowing the liquid glass to overflow from its frame, creating cantilevered ovals of glass outside of the table perimeter.
Each piece contains a little history, the fingerprints of a fairly ancient tradition reinvented by Sato’s young eye. “When you work with blown glass, you never finish the way you intended to,” Lasvit founder Leon Jakimic tells us. He returned to Bohemia to start the company after a decade in Hong Kong. “It’s always a collaboration, an exchange of ideas… And sometimes, I think, telepathe.”