Cassandra Straubing: A Fragile Narrative @ San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

Through sculptural work, Cassandra Straubing addresses issues of domestic and industrial labor.

Glass art is seldom seen in contemporary art exhibitions compared to other traditional crafts such as ceramic and fiber arts. Most glass works have been associated with having purely decorative or functional qualities. However, Bay Area-based artist Cassandra Straubing uses glass as a unique means of storytelling. She places emphasis on the conceptual aspect of the objects she creates. Coupled with the titles she chooses for her pieces, the work conveys poignant stories related to domestic and industrial labor.

A Fragile Narrative features working-class garments and tools of blue-collar labor, which Straubing created by employing multiple glass-forming techniques such as blowing, hot sculpting, and casting. According to Straubing, she chooses to work with glass because the medium offers a variety of forms that best help her to “express the diversity and complexity of the human existence – of strength and fragility, beauty and pain.”

The exhibition includes a series of cast garments, from a work shirt displayed on a hanger to a stack of folded jeans. Straubing casts the clothing customarily worn by agricultural and industrial laborers, and in doing so, pays homage to the men and women whose hard, physical work has historically contributed to the development and function of societies. In this series of work, clothing’s actual weightlessness and purpose to cover the body, are contrasted with Straubing’s glass pieces reflecting solidity, durability and transparency.

The installation of blown glass eggs titled There was a quiet stillness; her cradle, unfilled; unable to move on, references womanhood and fertility. The broken eggs signify difficult issues women face such as miscarriage, infertility, and domestic violence. By referring to delicate subjects not always openly talked about, and by installing the piece on the floor, Straubing gives multiple meaning to the expression “walking on eggshells.”

In They stood silent and graceful, awaiting the news, giant glass needles and cotton thread symbolize the mending of an emotional state of mind. Straubing correlates the domestic task of sewing together unraveled fabric, to healing the feelings of disconnect due to personal tragedies in one’s life. Straubing created the needles by hot sculpting, a process similar to blown glass but special tools, rather than actual blowing, are used to shape the sculpture.

The artist’s distinctive use of glass reflects an appreciation of both the formal and conceptual elements of the handmade, while the poetic narratives show great sensitivity to human struggle and endurance.

Straubing is currently the Glass Sculpture Faculty Head and Studio Coordinator at San Jose State University. She has exhibited her work nationally in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon.

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May 28, 2015