In 1291, the Venetian Republic forced the city’s glassmakers to move just off of Venice’s shores to the island of Murano, for fear that the heat from the factories would catch the city’s mostly wood buildings on fire. There, the glassmakers fostered a booming business for centuries, though demand has waned since the 1960s. Today, imitation works take almost half of the Murano glass market, and tastes have shifted away from its trademark decadent style.
Though some Murano glass factories do still maintain the ancient craft, the island is mostly a draw for tourists. Now, for the seven months of Venice Biennale, one glass factory that has been vacant for 60 years is springing back to action–courtesy of the French artist Loris Gréaud.
With The Unplayed Notes Factory, Gréaud revived the glass furnace of the long-abandoned facility of the Campollieto della Pescheria, and hired local glass blowers to man an unofficial production line.
The factory installation invites visitors to leave the bustle of the Venice art fair and ferry to Murano to enter into a carefully designed, immersive experience. But it’s not all for show: the glassblowers are actually producing Murano glass chandeliers, melting sand and “stabilizers”—like soda and lime—at low temperatures to prevent bubbling. One part of the factory is sectioned off, allowing for the glassblowers to work, while their creations circle on a conveyor belt. On the ceiling, 1,000 glass chandeliers hang overhead.
The atmosphere echoes the intensity of the glassblowing process: fog floats through the space, lit up by the kiln and torches, with the delicate glass results swinging along a conveyor belt above. For a time, the highly skilled, hand-crafted glassmaking process that once brought prosperity to Venice is revived in its original form.