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Why Glass ?

(p. 37-43)

Obsidian, the glass of volcanoes, solid and very sharp, black and opaque, was one of the treasures of the Neoliths. During that time, Lipari was the biggest centre of production in the West. The thin and delicate blades of weapons were exported throughout the Western basin of the Mediterranean, but this commerce soon died out with the discovery of metals. The obsidian mines thus fell out of use. The brutal awakening of the volcano during the late Middle Ages covered over the island completely with a flow of pumice which is what finally buried the deposits of obsidian. The white island was born.

Before leaving the island, I contemplated the blocks of white pumice stone, which are lighter than water and float like icebergs around the shore. Miss Cavalier held out a bag of white sand to me and in this sentence, offered me a sort of challenge: “the one who succeeds in melting this white pumice stone again will end up with black obsidian.” It was as though each of these two materials both contained and were the inverse of the other.

How I wondered, back in Paris and obsessed by this prophetic oracle, can this plutonic black rock be brought back from this white sand?
And hence I contacted the International Research Centre on Glass in Marseilles to propose such a project, the melting of the Lipari pumice stone to recreate the obsidian that had disappeared some thirteen centuries ago.

Conquered by my desire to unearth the crystals of a past time and my urge to bring back that prodigious thing from the Aristotelian tomb, they set to work for over two years, searching for a way to simulate the conditions of an eruption in the laboratory. They had to recreate the fluidity of lava, the pressure and speed of the cooling process to steer away from crystallisation in favour of vitrification. As the furnaces in Marseilles were not sufficiently powerful, we concluded the experiments to bring about this metamorphosis in Paris at the Saint Gobain research centre.

What meaning, what shape would we give to the object born of this research? I thought back to the first image of this initiatory voyage, to the black volcano sitting on top of the water, to its crater up against the sky like the reflection of a celestial eye, to that form of inverted twin cones that engendered in and of themselves a visual spoonerism.

From this emerged a black sculpture, Le Contrepet (The Spooner): the celestial obsidian, secret and blinding, had taken on the form of the volcano itself.

Jean-Michel Othoniel: other titles

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