In everyday usage, the adjectives broken, crushed and shattered carry dark emotional connotations. So do the terms damaged, devastated and destroyed. These are words conveying a tactile sense of hurt that goes well beyond physical pain.
Now think about a glass jar. It’s clear, cool, smooth, protective and light — a commonplace object of uncommon usefulness. But smash that same jar to bits and it becomes its own opposite. What was transparent becomes clouded; its cool smoothness becomes a hot zone of jagged edges. No longer protective, it becomes a source of danger; its airy lightness becomes leaden deadweight. A once-practical jar has become useless trash.
In breaking a glass object, you change both everything and nothing about it: everything, because the object no longer has its original shape or utility; nothing, because the fragmented material retains its substance, its mass, its hardness. Yet that very hardness also accounts for the brittleness of glass, and once broken, the process is one-way -- while the glass can be smashed into smaller and smaller shards, or even pounded into dust, it can’t be repaired or recreated. Breakage is forever.
The Glass Jars inhabit a transitional space between the poles of utility and uselessness by combining those modes: jars in a state of wholeness (as form), containing used glass in a fragmented state (literally, as content). To understand the nearly imperceptible distance between these states: imagine that one of these jars should fall to the floor, and break. At that moment, is there any difference at all between the original form and its contents?
When I began working on the Glass Jar series in the spring of 2001, I wasn’t sure where it would lead. But 9/11 gave the project an ineffable urgency to me — in some indirect and indescribable way, these varied systems of jars filled with broken glass became my artistic response to the destruction of the World Trade Center.
So it made sense, for the context of the photography exhibit “I Shot NY,” that I should create a specific work to serve as a Twin Towers memorial in miniature. “Footprints (Imagine the Towers)” is probably the most literal piece I’ve ever done, a direct reference to the two-dimensional outlines at the base of the former World Trade Center buildings.
The Glass Jars were first shown in a 2004 installation, “The Hard Stuff,” along with ceramic sculptures by Patsy Cox.