Prague’s Designblok Shines a Spotlight on Glass Heritage — and Evolution
Largely spared the bombings of the Second World War, Prague remains one of the most well preserved — and architecturally beautiful — European cities, with most of its urban centre now designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Today, the metropolis is also an anchor for diverse creative scenes, ranging from architecture and urban design to abstract art and artisanal crafts. Here, many artists, architects, craftspeople, and designers often find themselves negotiating between past and present; the deeply entrenched histories of their surroundings and today’s most pressing challenges. A staple event for the past quarter century, Prague’s annual Designblok festival surveys developments in a wide and expanding range of creative disciplines.
Doux by Maria Kobelova… was shown as part of Openstudio.
was shown as part of Openstudio.
This year, the multi-pronged happening — held from October 3 to 15 — placed particular emphasis on the theme of history and evolution. Trade fair-like showcases entitled Superstudio and Openstudio covered new products from established brands and speculative projects by young talents respectively. Staged in the city’s Neo-Renaissance U(P)M (Museum of Decorative Arts), the latter was programmed, in part, around the topic of high craft; highlighting how various up-and-coming talents are reinterpreting age-old artisanal traditions specific to the region while imagining new and authentic propositions. And where collective Fractum Object riffs on the ancient tradition of pottery — imbuing the hand-formed ceramic vessels with viscerally-intricate textures, Johan Pertl implements moulded glass as an almost stone-like, heirloom material.
Utopia by Johan Pertl.
Entitled Made by Fire, a standout group exhibition explored how both pottery and glass — jointly formed by this core natural element — are strongly rooted in Czech culture, industry, and history. Originally staged during Milan Design Week, this thematic group exhibition was presented at Prague Castle’s Ballroom and will continue to The Moravian Gallery in Brno later this fall. Curated by Vogue CZ content head Danica Kovářová and freelance journalist Eva Slunečková, the showcase highlighted over 50 contemporary glass and ceramic works of art and design crafted in the Czech Republic. The functional and conceptual pieces on view tackled contemporary social, ecological, and geopolitical issues but were unified by their connection to these emphatically Czech trades.
Part of Made by Fire, “Hidden Factory” explores the realities of porcelain industry in the Czech Republic where small and exclusive commissions can only be carried out thanks to hard work and enthusiasm of individual people with various positions in particular factories.
“Turbulent events have revealed the darker side of globalisation and made us ask ourselves some important questions,” Slunečková writes in the show’s catalogue. “How can we ensure the future sustainability of production? How resilient are Czech companies, and how capable of adapting to new conditions are they? How to preserve traditional crafts, and is it even worth the trouble? Perhaps everything could be summed up in one uncomfortable question: Are we facing the downfall of porcelain and glass production in Central Europe?” This quandary was perhaps best exemplified in LLEV Studio’s implementation of mycelium moulds to replicate traditional glass vase making. With themes like Adaptation, Identity, Experiment and Industry, as well as Production and Extinction, explored in this show, it’s clear that many of today’s talents are answering this question by not just returning to craft but finding new ways to harness traditional methodologies of production.
LLEV Studio harnesses mycelium moulds to replicate traditional glass vase making.
The design of the exhibition itself was carried out by Czech design wunderkind Maxim Velčovský, who also happens to be the creative director of high-end glass luminaire brand Lasvit. Founded in 2007 in the town of Nový Bor, the boutique design-forward company has implemented new ways to uphold the long-standing tradition of Czech — or more specifically Bohemian — glass. Owing to the rich silica sand deposit in the country’s more mountainous northwestern regions, Bohemian glass first emerged during the Renaissance but first gained prominence in the late 17th-century for the introduction of lead glass, more popularly known as crystal.
Behind-the-scenes during the fabrication process at Lasvit.
Known for hosting the annual International Glass Symposium, Nový Bor sits at the centre of the now-codified Crystal Valley, a cultural region located an hour and a half northeast of the capital, which borders the Polish region of Silesia and German Saxony — territories with their own rich artisanal heritages. Highlighted in its own annual weekend event — also held in October, this hive of continued activity plays host a wide variety of large scale producers, mid-sized glassworks, cottage industry networks, and independent talents.
Lasvit’s “Glass House” in Nový Bor.
Along with other major manufacturers that operate in the city — such as Preciosa, and Crystalex — Lasvit continues to export this regionally-defined output to the world by promoting the region’s storied history; producing elaborate chandeliers for the myriad royal courts of Europe since the enlightenment. (In today’s context, Pacinek Glass is a go-to Hollywood fabricator.) Though closely tied to tradition, these entities have rarely rested on their laurels. With its HQ formed as a series of interconnected vernacular townhomes and one glass tile-clad structure — designed by Prague firm Ov-a Architekti — serving as an architecture destination in and of itself, Lasvit has positioned itself well. Its nearby Ajeto boutique glassworks is also a local attraction. Bringing internationally-recognized talents into the fold hasn’t hurt either: Recent collections like David Rockwell’s Constellation and Yabu Pushelberg’s Miles have garnered significant global attention.
Constellation by David Rockwell for Lasvit.
Meanwhile, for independent Jewish, Brazilian, and Czech artist Ricardo Hoineff, who operates in the area, glass is as much a design medium as it is a skillset — even a language — that can be used to express personal narratives and frame social commentary. The self-taught glass artist and former set designer often utilizes slumping and fusing techniques that allow him to transform recycled elements like car light lenses into either abstract or representational sculptures. Making good use of these molten techniques, the Juraj & Matuš work was created as a reaction to the hate crime murder of one non-binary and one gay man by a Neo-Nazi in front of a gay bar in Bratislava, Slovakia. Other works like Gay Fairtales take on almost cast bronze-like quality.
Ricardo Hoineff’s striking glass art explores themes of gay identity and discrimination.
Though glass craft can quickly slide into the realm of kitsch (think the cute animal figurines you might pick up at a Prague tourist shop) the medium has far more range and potential for decorative and practical application. The rich and sometimes convoluted history of glass serves as protean fodder for invention and reinvention, interpretation and reinterpretation — always melting, cooling, and forming into place.