Is glass a solid or a liquid…or both?

There is a romantic idea that glass is a very slow-moving liquid which travels downwards due to gravity over a number of centuries in old church windows making them thicker at the bottom than the top…sadly the truth is closer to defining it as an amorphous solid which lacks the orderly molecular structure of other solids. So maybe it is a unique material.

The Egyptians were probably the first to make purposeful use of heating up sand and minerals to make glass beads in about 2500BC. Nowadays glass is made by cooling molten ingredients such as silica sand with limestone (calcium carbonate) and soda ash (sodium carbonate) with enough speed to prevent visible crystals forming. Clear glass is produced.

15 Ancient Egyptian Glass Beads (antiquesnavigator.com)

To demonstrate the powerful elemental nature of glass, it is documented that the first atomic bomb tests in the New Mexico desert turned the surrounding sand into a sea of glass. Such was the heat from the nuclear blast in 1945, atomic glass was left behind.

Trinity Site, New Mexico, July 16, 1945. (alienpolicy.com)

The flow of glass from chemical upheaval to a more or less settled state of semi-solidity seems a good metaphor for where we are right now as we seek to emerge from the pandemic. I see elements of what could be a transformational flow from a fossilised mindset of how things have to be towards a more fluid understanding of what could and can be. Then old tropes of boring self-protectionism can actually become more interesting attitudes of generosity and sharing what we have and are.

We can aspire to a state of grace which looks unflinchingly at the horrors of what happens when so many human choices are wrong headed, but can see a way beyond that to a place of shared human purpose for our planet. Or we can give up the ghost as we look at tired politicians trying to drag us all back to their lair of lies and pathetic blindness to change.

Glass is an inspiring and lively material to work with because it is always alive to the light around it – whether it is transparent, transluscent or semi-opaque, light will find a way of getting through it with quiet or spectacular results. Perhaps its unique material state, somewhere between solid and liquid gives us a truthful metaphor for life – we all live lives looking for absolutes to live by in a world where transition and fluidity are valued so highly. Life is rarely just one thing or the other…

Distanced Encounters 3, leaded stained glass panel (unfinished), 2021, Andy Brooke

This recent piece of work follows on from the ceramic pieces I made for The Stove Network’s Elsewhere Project. The previous works were made during the first lockdown before we moved to Scotland and they contain a certain longing for new beginnings and possible futures. This work is more about the timeless ebb and flow of human interactions which seem embedded in the very nature of the elements of the world. Glass is a magical yet down to earth material which shows us the beauty of strength in apparent weakness and the power of transformation.

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