Glass: I see you, you see me, but is it each other that we see?

A new exhibition about glass (Glas, Voertuig van vooruitgang)(1) at the Nieuwe Instituut provides fascinating insights into the material itself, but also provides us with insights into ourselves and our relation to the world we live in. It too sheds light on the shadows of progress in a subtle and cunning way. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour by one of the curators of the exhibition, Toon Koehorst.

Glass is a material that has been available to man for an extraordinarily long time, but has only recently been used to the extent that we can use it. Materials such as wood, metal and ceramics have a more extensive history of usage, design and exploitation. This may sound surprising to some. After all we’ve have had sand and fire available to us for thousands of years, yet we have only really made considerable developments in glass in the last 800 years(4)(5). We were told this by Toon and he had more to say about these developments. Het Nieuwe Instituut and Toon gave us a tour of glass that informs us about these developments and stimulates a dialogue about these developments(1)(2)(3)(15). They do this in a very subtle way, by leaving the eye of the viewer to interpret the objects for themselves. There is not much text in the exhibition.

The exhibition is an interesting exhibition curated by Toon Koehorst and Jannetje in het Veld. Two graphic designers who do work for cultural institutions and public interests(2)(3). Their aim (alongside
the aim of Het Nieuwe Instituut) is to provide a clear narrative on Glass and its influence on society
(2)(3). They also have an interest in the order of things (2)
and they have a deep desire to engage with the public and create unique interventions to given situations. Their perspective on glass is that it is a material that has a lot of uses, but that it has its drawbacks and shadows too. Their view is that we may have an improved vision of the world through glass, but so might agencies that are less scrupulous and trustworthy.

The exhibition itself has been created out of the desire to show visitors what glass is, does, how it came to be, and the influence it has on our daily lives. The composition of the exhibition has been ordered in chapters, namely Lens, Tube and Thread. This gives the viewer a different understanding of glass in the sense of each particular chapter. Toon Koehorst and Jannetje in het Veld are trying to show the genealogy of glass. There is a historical connection to each piece, but not all pieces are ordered in a clear chronological way. After all, each piece has its place in time, but not all these pieces need to be ordered in a clear chronological way. They are ordered in a way that Jannetje and Toon have considered necessary to explain their understanding of glass. This may be out of the desire to keep the eye interested (I believe one can say), as it does provide greater variation in sight.

The true aim of the variation is to create a better understanding of glass through this composition.

They wish to show their and the Institute’s understanding of glass and progress in glass to the world(1)(2)(3)(15).

The exhibition has many objects on display. It includes the precursor to the Eames Powers of Ten video, Uranium glass, a jellyfish in glass, the first telescope with an achromatic lens, a SLR-Camera lens sawn precisely in half, designer products (by Dutch Designers such as David Derksen, Arnout Visser, Hella Jongerius and Pieke Bergmans) videos of glass projects (Marcus Kayser’s Solar Sinter(6) caught my eye in particular) and a semi-manufactured Glass cable for the optic fibre industry (which could have a value of half a million euros). Many of them are quite remarkable, while some are a little creepy (the copy of an X-ray of a man suggests that another man can see right through him).

Many of these objects are chosen to show the extent to what glass can be formed into. Many of these objects show the viewing possibilities of glass.

The choice of the curator’s chosen objects is for a great diversity from many disciplines, and objects which belong to these disciplines. This is probably to highlight the effect glass has on our lives.

The information is collected together under and on top of steel constructions that were similar to the steel constructions used in the great exhibition of 1851(7)(8). This is an interesting reference to the origin of our contemporary glass world. After all, the great exhibition was about the brand new modern and supposedly transparent glass and the world it was going to be part of.

The most interesting thing about the exhibition is that it is about the way that glass, design and glass design have had an influence on contemporary culture and life. In particular the aspect which it has
been able to influence is our ability to see this world, for what it is and what it isn’t. Yet I do have my doubts as to the cultural transparency of glass. An interesting fact that came to light during the tour was that there are 5 other equivalents of the Hubble telescopes in orbit around the earth. These telescopes (which we believe have been brought in to orbit by the NSA) have their lenses directed towards earth rather than space. This shows the paranoia and deep seated desire by the United States government to be able to view every single aspect of the earth at very short notice. It creates a panopticon
the size of the planet. The notion of freedom has been lost in this prison that we now live in. I don’t think that this is what is obvious in our daily use and consciousness of glass. This is not something that has come to light.

The belief behind this use of technology is that it forces the individual to conform to an idea of good behaviour. After all, if you don’t do anything bad, there will be no need for you to be watched ad if you do something bad, you will be seen. It makes us behave in a “good” way.

I don’t believe in this. I believe that people should be free to find their own position and way in life.

A human should deal with its own being in the world. One should be able to live an authentic life, free of peeping toms and outside the panopticon(12)(13) that we live in these days. Glass has trapped us in the vision of the powerful and unethical. After all, Edward Snowden(14) pointed to us that the United States Government could not be trusted. So we therefor need to heed ourselves of the possibilities of glass. We shouldn’t be trapped in the gaze of the people who abuse the amazing
qualities of glass.

We must be free to deal with our own thrownness into this world and therefore we must resist this panopticum. We should no longer be thrown into the subjugation of the powers that be. This exhibition could be a step in that direction. After all, if we know what glass is, what it can do and how it influences our lives, then we can resist any force that abuses it. Through knowledge of the material itself one can defy those who use it without scruples.

One hopes that the order of things in this exhibition truly shows glass and its position in the world and not just the view of the curators. I believe it does show glass for what it is and does, albeit in a toned down version. This is to keep true to the institute’s intention of showing things for what they are first and second for creating a discussion. After all, there surely are people who are merely interested in the properties and divers applications of glass, then the shadows of innovation in glass.

The exhibition does lay quite a demand on the viewing capabilities and visual understanding of the viewer, as there is not much text that describes the objects and the order of the objects. However if you take a good long look, have an open mind and take time to understand and research the work of het Nieuwe Instituut, Studio Koehorst in ’t Veld and philosophical theory(9)(10)(11), one can genuinely obtain a greater global view of glass and the role it has in our society.

The exhibition does start a discussion about the panopticon(12)(13) right from the beginning in a very subtle and cunning way. We see a lens focussed on a glass globe and the end (which shows shutters blocking light from two lamps) we see a gesture towards the shadows in the innovation of glass. Can others see this? That is for others to decide for themselves.

I can see it.

1) Het Nieuwe Instituut; Glas,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
2) Koehorst in ‘t veld <
3) Koehorst in ‘t veld <
4) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015, <
5) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
6)Markus Kayser solar sinter,, Onbkend, 27-06-2015
7) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
8) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
9) Butler-Bowden, Tom. 50 philosophy classics. London: Nicholas Brearley, 2013.
10) Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy. Introducing Philosophy, a graphic guide. London. Icon Books Ltd:
11) Sim, Stuart & Van Loon Borin. Introducing Critical Theory, a graphic guide. London. Icon Books
Ltd: 2009
12) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015, <
13) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
14) Wikipedia,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,
15) Het Nieuwe Instituut,, Onbekend, 27-06-2015,


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