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  • Balancing Act, Ruth Shelley. Photo: Haydn Denman

A biennale of breadth

The 2015 British Glass Biennale welcomes its first guest curator

The International Festival of Glass takes place in the West Midlands this May with a collection of exhibitions, talks and masterclasses. There are satellite shows, such as an exhibition of Hungarian glass and a bevy of workshops planned, but the jewel in the festival’s crown is undoubtedly the British Glass Biennale.

The Biennale offers a snapshot of what’s currently happening in UK glass and this year the organisers have appointed its first guest curator: Matt Durran. The glass artist and Crafts Council trustee is better known in the pages of Crafts magazine for his work with the Royal Free Hospital, tissue-engineering new noses, but he has been curating various shows over the past few years including his international Glass Heap Challenge, events to create new work from industrial waste glass. From these few details you’ll already see that Durran doesn’t play within the traditional boundaries.

Last of the Silver Darlings. James Maskrey. Photo: David Williams

It is this breadth that he brings to the Biennale: ‘I felt like in the last few years there’s been a growth in technologies, lots of new people doing glass, a great deal of collaboration and intermixing, an expansion into other areas and industries. It goes beyond making gallery-based work,’ says Durran. So while there will be plenty of work from established makers, the Biennale has had a breath of fresh air blown through it; Durran estimates 60 percent of the artists and makers selected have never exhibited in the show before.

The final list of 76 names was whittled down from over 200 by a jury consisting of Graham Fisher, trustee of the British Glass Foundation, curator Janice Blackburn, collector Mark Holford, Ikon gallery director Jonathan Watkins and glass artist David Reekie. Durran was on hand to offer the jury his technical knowledge but now comes his moment, to marshal over 130 glass-based pieces – with the odd film and installation included – into a cohesive exploration of the state of glass today.

Several awards are up for grabs in the Biennale with the prize fund totalling over £20,000, and this year London Glassblowing is sponsoring a new Emerging Talent prize. Winners will be announced during a ceremony on 27 May.

International Festival of Glass is in the West Midlands, 28 to 31 May. The 2015 British Glass Biennale is at the Ruskin Glass Centre, Stourbridge, 28 May to 28 June.