At 600 – 1000˚ C it slowly melts, forming a flame-red liquid – watery yet ablaze. Cooling down, it solidifies into a transparent substance. This wondrous material is none other than glass.
Pulling the iron rod from the furnace, Beijing-based glass artist Du Meng blows into one end to begin shaping the wad of molten glass on the other. The luminous orange of the liquid glass is captivating, hypnotic even, tempting you to draw closer to its deadly heat.
它一半是海水，一半是火焰；它只能在 600 – 1000 ℃ 的高温下慢慢融化，化作一滩火色的水，再一点点降温，凝结成冰的形状。它就是玻璃。
At the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Du Meng studied graphic design, a field she felt had “limitless potential.” But as time went on, doubts began to fester. To an artist who yearned to work with her hands, graphic design seemed a little too fast, a little too hectic.
After graduation, she watched a live glassblowing performance on her first visit to the US. This became a eureka moment for her. “It was all because of that exhibition. It changed the way I looked at glass,” she recalls. “It opened my eyes to how this material could be used for artistic expression.”
But picking up glassblowing is no easy feat for a complete novice. “It’s scorching hot, and it’s easy to get hurt,” she says. “When I first started, I got blisters up and down my arms.” Back then Du Meng felt torn. Working with hot glass at temperatures well over 1000˚ C is like dancing on the edge of a knife: it’s fraught with danger and utterly exhilarating.
Glass is a unique material – it requires an artist’s undivided attention and coordination. “The way that light refracts and shines through glass to fill a room is a special feeling. It makes you feel like this material is alive, that it breathes and has memories of its own. I think this is what moves me the most.”
Du Meng describes herself as someone who “uses glass to tell stories.” She sees glass as a medium that’s helped her share anecdotes about the people in her life and her own personal experiences. And she thinks glassblowing isn’t so different from actual storytelling—they’re both always works in progress that can develop in limitless directions. And they can both slip out of your hands if you’re not careful.
“When working with other materials, you’ll think about what you want to make first even though it might not be a definitive idea. When I’m creating with glass, all of this is happening at the same time. I’m making adjustments as the work is being created,” she explains. “Every piece of work I make is like an individual character with their own stories, and when they’re all together, a new story begins to emerge.”
But over time, Du Meng’s relationship with the medium began to change.
In the beginning, her works had a very personal style, and were a means for her to “better understand herself and her relationship with her art.” Fast forward to today, Du Meng now believes a successful piece of glass art should be the result of fully understanding the story you wish to tell. As a result, her work now attempts to explore the complex relationship between humans, physical spaces, nature, other living organisms, and our changing world.
These are the new world perspectives she’s acquired from glass. “Working with glass, I gained a newfound attitude for life, and it changed my way of thinking. This is especially with the case with glassblowing – this type of art something that can instantly reveal an artist’s temperament. And the road to learn glassblowing is filled with uncertainties and challenges. If your artwork breaks, how do you react, how do you face your failure? Having worked for a while, I feel like I’m a much stronger person. It’s helped me become calmer and more composed,” she smiles.