T Introduces: The Glass Artists Baku Takahashi and Tomoko Wada
Glass melts above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it resembles sun-bright lava with a taffylike pull — and often necessitates that its handlers work with a partner, lest one of them get scorched. Fourteen years ago, at Tama Art University in Tokyo, Baku Takahashi and Tomoko Wada paired up in an introductory glass blowing class; they’re still working together today, driven by a shared belief, as Wada wrote in an email, “that glass itself, with its transparency and color, is alluring, so we treat it with importance.” Now 32 and married, they’re considered two of the most exciting glass artists in Japan.
After graduating and assisting artisans for a few years, Takahashi and Wada rejected Tokyo’s thriving maker scene for Takahashi’s hometown in Fukuoka Prefecture on the country’s southernmost main island, which is home to rocky beaches and citrus-fruit forests whose mandarin-orange hues are reflected in his work. Here, out of a 1,100-square-foot studio, the duo makes sculptures, wall hangings, pendants and small objects that are distinct to each artist but alike in their focus on what Wada calls “spatiality.” For more than a decade, she’s been iterating upon her “Apartment” series, for which she fills and stacks glass boxes of various sizes with glinting balls of rainbow-hued glass, dried flowers or lengths of organdy, as if rearranging the rooms of an abstract dollhouse. But the specific contents are not really the point: Within these realms, it’s “the empty space that is most distinctive,” she says.
It’s fitting, then, that her partner aims to fill the void: Takahashi often produces the fragile flotsam that Wada places inside the cubes. In his own practice, he’s similarly focused on claiming space, sculpting forms he hopes the world hasn’t seen before, even if they are loosely born of a childhood spent reading anime and playing video games. Takahashi melts, cools, fuses and polishes glass shapes in cartoonish shades (royal purple, aquamarine) to create crayon-box-size statues that resemble, say, an Olympic torch from the year 2080 or a religious totem from a dreamed-up pacifist cult.
As obsessed as Wada and Takahashi are with space, though, their artistic motivation ultimately lies with their chosen material. In Japan, artisans have blown glass for centuries, though many modern techniques were introduced by the Portuguese and the Dutch starting in the 16th century. In the last century, glass blowing has often been seen more as craft than art, perhaps because the process of shaping the material was historically “used for the manufacturing of products,” Takahashi says. “We look to fuse old-fashioned values with new ideas.”