Thursday March 19, 2020 | by Farah Rose Smith

INTERVIEW: A conversation with Sibylle Peretti, whose upcoming Heller Gallery exhibition has been moved online

"Backwaters," an exhibition at the Heller Gallery of nine new major works by German-born glass artist Sibylle Peretti, will shift to an online exhibition in light of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The in-person gallery event has been indefinitely postponed, with the hope that improving conditions will allow the gallery to reopen. (Heller has temporarily closed its 10th Avenue gallery in the Chelsea art district of New York City, but can be reached via email or phone.) The online exhibition will open on April 2nd, 2020. 

The exhibition will feature five wall pieces and four cast sculptures, as well as an installation of the "Glass Notes" series, an ongoing collaboration between Peretti and her husband, artist Stephen Paul Day.

Sibylle Peretti, Rising Fawn I, 2020. H 8, W 24, D 13 in. Kiln-cast glass. courtesy: heller gallery

Peretti's work, which takes the form of kiln-formed wall panels or 3-D castings made through the lost-wax process, is concerned with the complex relationship between humans and the natural world. “I like to invite the viewer to journey into an unknown, undefined place of possibilities, mystery, and beauty were we find moments of clarity, solitude, and introspection,” Peretti says in the exhibition announcement. Peretti's upcoming exhibition is titled "Backwaters," a reference to out-of-the-way locales she explores in her neighborhood: "Living in New Orleans just footsteps away from the Mississippi river I explore almost daily the ever-changing alluvial land with its magical backwaters."

The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet spoke with Sibylle Peretti about the work in her upcoming exhibition. 

Glass: Can you discuss the significance of emotion, memory, and solitude in your work?
Sibylle Peretti: I have always been interested in art that reflects our emotional existence. When I'm moved, I understand from the inside. I see my work as my journey to confront myself with the unknown, trying to create intimate spaces where I can reflect on loss, hope and memory.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “To walk inside of yourself and meet no one for hours -- that is what you must be able to attain.” As an artist it is important to find longer times of solitude.  It can be frightening and rewarding at the same time, but its necessary for self-contemplation and to gain insight. Especially in my landscapes I try to create moments of solitude, spaces that stimulate the viewer’s senses and invite them to become part of a journey into undefined places of mystery and wonder. The landscapes I photograph and later transform into glass can be compared to stage settings in where nature combined with unexpected elements create  sometime surreal, dreamlike atmospheres that are open to the viewers own perceptions.

Sibylle Peretti, Pirka, 2019. Kiln-formed glass, engraved, painted, silvered, photo application. H 40, W 60, D 1/2 in. courtesy: heller gallery

Glass: Do you have a favorite piece of art from a medium outside of glass that inspires you?
Peretti: Of cause there are many…but a recent addition to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans, a 60 ‘ long ceramic tile mural by Teresita Fernandez, is breathtaking and in every level inspiring.  I love her idea of creating a hybrid landscape were different memories and histories are integrated in one piece. Also the work of German artist Paloma Varga Weisz is very stimulating and I love its authenticity and craftsmanship.

Glass: Can you talk a little bit about the significance of nature in your work, particularly your interest in liminal landscapes?
Peretti: One major aspect in my work is to reflect on our disrupted relationship to nature and our yearning to achieve a unity with the natural world. 

In my upcoming exhibition “Backwater” I try to describe places that are isolated, but also in a permanent change due to human expansion and flooding. You can see them as liminal landscapes that encourages the viewer to enter. When you look at the piece you see also your own reflection in the mirrored parts of the glass and you become part of the journey.

Sibylle Peretti, Backwater, 2020. Kiln-formed glass, engraved, painted, photo application. H 34, W 42, D 1/2 in. courtesy: heller gallery

Glass: Do you feel that your work aligns with the works of the Symbolists, who also sought to uncover hidden worlds and drew upon mystical connections with nature?
Peretti: The wish to uncover hidden worlds is a beautiful task, full of mystery and the unknown.  Its comforting to imagine that there are possibilities to connect to nature in a spiritual way.

Glass: Children are featured heavily in your works, and you describe them as representing “vulnerability in a diaphanous universe” and that you depict children’s identities in  worlds of adverse layers. In what ways are children the best subjects to convey your themes?
Peretti: In my work, I use children as my protagonists. It all started 20 years ago when I found a pile of children medical books on the street of Cologne Germany. Not that I was just mesmerized by the beauty and power of some of the images I also felt the immediate need to take them out of the medical context and place them into a diaphanous universe where they may could heal. At the same time they also transformed into prophets knowing something we as adults don’t know. They are alive to me and function as messengers. 

Sibylle Peretti, Tchefuncte, 2019. Kiln-formed glass, engraved, painted silvered, photo application. H 60, W 80, D 1/2 in. courtesy: heller gallery

Glass: What is your definition of beauty?

I don’t considered my work as neither decadent nor gothic, but can see in some ways parallels. My grandfather was a doctor and he had a large collection of anatomical specimens and models that showed abnormal conditions of the human body. The colors and their particular beauty fascinated me. Most people would find them discomforting, but as an artist you search to experience these reaction in hope that they lead you to something new. Therefor beauty is for me when something moves me and a moment of clarity touches me, when I get euphoric about finding something out of the ordinary.  

"Dismal Swamp", detail, kiln formed, engraved, painted and silvered glass, paper 2018

Glass: Can you describe your work space?
Peretti: My physical work takes place in an 800-square foot space in an industrial building in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. For my works in glass I have a kiln; otherwise I prefer to work on the floor due to the lager scale of the landscapes. My other workspace is located in my head.

Glass: Were you inspired by fairy tales, or does the fairy tale-nature of your work come naturally?
Peretti: The “Snow Children” sculptures were directly based on a Russian fairytale.  It’s a story about an elderly childless couple building a girl out of snow. The next morning the snow girl is gone, but instead they spot a real child running through the woods guarded by birds. They start loving her as if she would be their own child. But soon as springs arrive she escapes the warmth and wanders towards the mountains where the snow never melts.  While the Snow Child embodies hope and a spiritual connection to nature it also reflects on the fragility of life.

Sibylle Peretti, Siblings, 2005. Gass.. H 15, W 22, D 10 in.

I also found the process of making a “Snow child” out of white glass as magical as the story itself. The fragility of glass is directly connected to the temporal human existence.  Glass’ durability is uncertain and thus it is an irreplaceable metaphor for human mortality. Most of my other work is not directly inspired by fairytales and I don’t like when people only refer to them as fairytales. For me they are are reflecting realities.

Glass: Is there any special significance in why you choose hues of blue in several of your sculptural works?
Peretti: The blue tint is the result of an opaline striking glass overlays. The opaline has the ability to change color from warm orange hues to elegant and cool blue shades. In my wall pieces I use the opaline as a veil to emphasize the mystery.

Glass: Your works are singularly creative, and yet would not be out of place in an exhibition with artists such as Joel-Peter Witkin, Paulina Otylie Surys, and Gottfried Helnwein. Can you talk a little bit about the intersection of the arts and haunting depictions of beauty? 
Peretti: For me art becomes successful when something strikes you as beautiful, but makes you uneasy at the same time. It's like a moment of clarity but simultaneously will cause confusion. I like to be moved when I look at Art and I want to be haunted by the still unknown.


Sibylle Peretti
OPENING April 2nd, 2020
Heller Gallery
Online exhibition
(212) 414-4014

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