Lucile Viaud

Geoglasswork: territories of materials

Atelier Lucile Viaud — Silicybine 05 © Vincent McClure

Lucile Viaud is a designer and “geoglass” artist. Working from salvaged materials, she crafts objects that carry within them the history of the territories from where the materials originate. Its snail or abalone shells, forgotten sands, and powdered seaweed are slices of fleeting time and result in objects that cannot be replicated.

Given that you describe yourself as a géoverrière (or “geoglass artist”), can you tell us what that discipline covers?

Geoglasswork (géoverrerie) is a term we recently coined to describe an approach that aims to bring together geography and the base materials that are used to manufacture glass. The qualities and properties of glass vary depending on the base inputs that are combined—chemical feedstock, sands from all across the world, oxides, et cetera. In my case, glass—its color and its behavior under high-temperature conditions—varies based on which materials I use. I work with materials that are seldom used, including powdered seaweed, and oyster, abalone, and snail shells, as well as microalgae, and sands sourced from the construction industry. The glass items I make vary depending on the nature of these materials. They are based on the landscapes they originate from, their geologies, their traditional productions (some of which are now perceived to lack value and characterized as debris), and the know-how that have generated them.

The most significant factor in allowing the materials used in glass production to express themselves relates to working on color and revisiting primitive production techniques. The history of glass has always been about pursuing a quest for purity and transparency. The search for colorlessness and the desire to reconstruct rock crystal has pushed glass producers to continually discolor glass, which naturally has yellow or green hues. Today, we end up with something I feel is incoherent, whereby we first discolor glass before imbuing it with color at a later stage in order to keep the tints under tight control. We have thus lost the richness of geography and the expression of the trace elements that are naturally present in the base materials and which body tint the glass with deep colors.

Geoglasswork, the color and volumes, and the glassware that is ultimately produced become archival elements of a territory, a pretense to relate its history, its heritage, and its know-how.

© Lucile Viaud
© Lucile Viaud
Abysse © Lucile Viaud
Abysse © Lucile Viaud

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Your approach is reproducible, yet your recipes are not because they carry the memory of certain events. Can you expand on this original feature?

Though I develop the recipes myself, they cannot really be described as truly innovative, and I certainly draw from traditional glass production. More to the point, I reinterpret primitive techniques in order to tackle contemporary issues (for instance regarding the use of local coproducts). I therefore undertake not to take anything away from the landscapes, not to destroy anything, but rather to salvage materials that are generated through various events.

For example, I make the Abysse glass from powdered beach-cast seaweed. In the past, the washed-up seaweed was used to manufacture soda, which was then used to make glass and soap. The sector underwent radical transformation and the economic value of the base material is now higher than when it is simply harvested rather than burned as kelp. I wasn’t going to reproduce a process that had become outdated by turning the seaweed into ash again. What I did, however, was partner with a nonprofit organization that is responsible for the Plonguerneau ecomuseum as it produces soda ash once a year during a heritage event aiming to keep the memory and the methods of the kelpers alive. I then collect the 3 or 4 kilograms of the “bread of the sea” that are produced every year during that event in order to make my Abysse glass.

© Germain Herriau

Another example is provided by my Rouergue glassware. To make it, I don’t collect any sand from the Lot River, but recycle it. The river’s sand had long been extracted by the community in the hamlet of Montarnal, in the Aveyron department of southern France, which lived off the trade until the end of the 1970s. In 2019, I had the good fortune to meet someone who had bought some of that sand from a cousin for his own needs, and who had been keeping it in a skip since 1976. He was emotionally very attached to it and gave it to us upon seeing that the sand would live on in a “sublimated” form. With this “Rouergue glass,” I designed stained-glass windows that we donated to the Montarnal municipality in order for the sand to return to its place of origin. They were installed in the Saint-Roch chapel and contribute to the silent transmission of the place’s history.

Does putting to use certain local materials contribute to creating a sense of unity and territorial identity?

I believe so and it’s also one of the objectives underlying my approach. I’m very interested in the notion of bioregion, in geography, geology, myths, local know-how and local customs—and ultimately not so much in “political” regions.

I’ve just started work on a project to that end on the Ponant Islands. These are a strip of islands along France’s western coast, ranging from the Channel’s Chausey Archipelago to the Isle of Aix. They are looking to reassert their identity and there are nonprofits working towards that end, and in particular Savoir-faire des îles du Ponant [Know-How from the Ponant Islands]. By creating glass from source materials and using the human resources of these fifteen islands, we are, to a certain extent, working towards creating an “archipelago,” using other methods that weave together administrative boundaries.

What sort of relationships do you have with scientists and research labs, being at the crossroads of art and science as you are?

Beyond creating objects or projects of a more architectural nature, my work consists in establishing an ecosystem of researchers, artists, and craftspeople, and to assert my place at the junction between art and science. It can sometimes be difficult to gain recognition of either party and to have each embrace cross-disciplinarity as the only solution to break free from knowledge silos in order to produce in a consistent manner while respecting the localism, fostering the process of reclaiming of materials, and the understanding of ecosystems.

As for my forays in the chemistry of glass, they are informed by the residence that I have been fortunate to pursue since 2017 at the Glasses & Ceramics Laboratory at the Rennes Institute of Chemical Sciences. I am also interested in marine biology and am working, among others, in collaboration with Vona Méléder, a researcher at the University of Nantes and a diatom specialist. Diatoms are a group of microalgae that generate around 25% of the oxygen produced on Earth every year. The pressing challenge in terms of raising awareness and communication around microalgae has led us (working in tandem with master glassmaker Stéphane Rivoal) to make sculptures that are intended to assist in science outreach. The work is a technical and esthetic challenge as we must respect the specific characteristics of each species, while seeking to arouse a sense of wonder in order to educate the public on the importance of preserving this precious resource. Each year, we create a sculpture based on a diatom chosen together with the researchers. We’re currently collaborating with Jean-Luc Mouget from the University of Le Mans to reproduce Haslea ostrearia, a species that should be familiar to all given that they are behind the color of the green-gilled oysters from Marennes-Oléron!

Belle Île en Mer © Lucile Viaud
© Lucile Viaud
© Lucile Viaud
© Lucile Viaud
© Lucile Viaud
© Vincent McClure
© M-A Mouterde, Fondation Rémy Cointreau

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