Thursday February 15, 2018 | by Allison Adler

Designer Heidi Jalkh's "Entre Medio" pushes the uneasy relationship between fused glass and ceramic to find compatible form and commentary on freedom

Buenos-Aires-based Colombian industrial designer Heidi Jalkh stepped out of her prescribed role for a new series "Entre Medio" ("In Between" in English), which fuses glass and ceramic without a glaze or glue. In an interview with the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet, Jalkh said of industrial design: “you want things to work.” For "Entre Medio," however, she shifted her focus away from creating perfect products that adhere to a predetermined blueprint to embrace experimentation and the process of creation. She was especially intrigued by the push and pull that occur when glass and ceramic, which are normally fired at different temperatures, are fused solely based on form. The resulting pieces appear to be frozen in the act of creation and bear the cracks and fissures that result from thermal shock. "Entre Medio" embodies Jalkh’s focus on matter, morphology, and technique. It also reflects her overall practice, which is, in part, about receptivity and working within and around the constraints of the properties of given materials, themes that also speak to the larger environment in which she works in Latin America. 

The combination of glass and ceramic was “the most logical thing to do because both are heat-related materials,” Jalkh explained. Previously inexperienced at working with glass and ceramic, she went through three trials to create the pieces that currently comprise "Entre Medio." The first two trials used low and then high temperature ceramics, the latter so fully crystallized that they exploded on contact with hot glass. For the third trial, Jalkh contacted a ceramic chemist and fired the ceramics at nine-hundred degrees, which granted them more space to expand and contract with the heat of the crystal glass. 

"A lot of people see it just as a broken thing that is not working,” Jalkh said, reflecting on the products of this experimentation. It took her two years of “begging” to even find makers who wanted to try fusing the two materials together. Factories, she explained, try to create perfect objects and rupture is therefore “a really strong thing for them to come across with.” However, through experimentation, she realized that what one learns from the process of creation can be more interesting than the final product: “Through the process, I could really see another place, another beauty.”

The process of creating “Entre Medio," Jalkh said, "Became like a research project where I could take all these errors...and I could understand how these materials were made." For Jalkh, who has a Masters in Logic and Technique of the Form from the Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism of Buenos Aires, “everything I do is material based.” Her Masters project, for example, focused on bio-inspired materials whose morphologies determine their functions. As an example, she sent over a passage that discusses the structure of the connection between the human tibia and knee. This connection allows the leg to bend backwards, but not forwards. In this way, the tibia’s relationship to the knee closes off some possibilities and produces constraint. Jalkh highlighted these lines in the passage: “some constraints must...not only reduce the number of alternatives: they must simultaneously create new possibilities. We need to understand how constraints simultaneously open up as well as close off options.” In this vein, her Masters project, in her words, was “about making materials sensitive...creating sensibility from materials through form.”

While not directly related to her Masters project, “Entre Medio” also examines the sensitivity of materials and is about “finding freedom in constraints.” Jalkh pushes the properties of ceramic and glass, and finds the circumstances under which they can work together and be sensitive to each other. Her focus on process is reminiscent of ideas articulated by anthropologist Tim Ingold in his writings on materials and material culture. Ingold, in his essay "On Weaving a Basket," notes that objects are "embodiment[s] of rhythmic movement." We may have a preconceived idea of the object we wish to create, but, in reality, both the materials we use to create an object and external environmental factors influence the final product. Properties, Ingold further mentions in an article "Materials against Materiality," are not fixed, they are formed and revealed through certain processes and relations; they are experienced. He writes, "Every property is a condensed story. To describe the properties of materials is to tell the stories of what happens to them as they flow, mix and mutate." This articulates with his assertion that there is a rhythm to the process of creation. The final products of this process bear the "temporal rhythms of life," which, "are gradually built into the structural properties of things" (Ingold, "On Weaving a Basket").  

These temporal rhythms, the push and pull between glass and ceramic and their respective properties, are manifest in "Entre Medio." The pieces in this series tell a story about what happens when two seemingly incompatible materials meet. The "final" products embody a particular rhythm. In a way, this rhythm may also reflect aspects of life in Latin America. In Latin America, "it's about making the most of what you have," Jalkh said. She explained that the design industry in Latin America is more industrial and there is less collaboration between designers and industry compared to the United States and Europe. Through enough exposure, however, she believes industry may be more open to the types of processes and experimentation she introduces with "Entre Medio." She believes that if you can take constraints and use them as generative, “there is something rich in that as well.”

As sublimations of the reality of finding freedom within constraints, there is a beauty to "Entre Medio." In 2017, Jalkh entered the series into the Art section of the Open to Art Competition at the Officine Saffi Gallery in Milan, which was divided into two categories: Design and Art. On the opening day of the competition, she discovered that she won an opportunity to display her work at a solo show at Milan's Museo del Design 1880-1980. The show is currently a work in progress, but you can see some of "Entre Medio" displayed at Casa Canvas gallery in Milan and Tokonoma in Buenos Aires. Still, Jalkh noted, "This is not art." "I don't call myself an artist," she continued, and explained that she did not create "Entre Medio" "to communicate something that needed to get out." Jalkh contends that it is outsiders who deem "Entre Medio" as art. "I think, for now, it works well," she stated. But, the most important thing for Heidi Jalkh is still the revelatory process of creation. 


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