Glassblowing | 14-05-2024

Mixed emotions

As she steps from education into the world of contemporary glass, Jiayun Ding describes her artworks and their inspirations, some of which have been selected for international exhibitions. Linda Banks finds out more.

You are currently completing your studies at the University of Sunderland. What led you to start working with glass?

As a child, I was always drawn to transparent objects and had a glass orb paperweight in my collection of trinkets. One day, while watching an online video on glassblowing, specifically crafting a Venetian goblet, something clicked inside me. It was an immediate realisation that I wanted to pursue and explore glass for the rest of my life.

What glass techniques have you used and which do you prefer?

I’ve utilised various glass techniques, including enamel printing, slumping, kiln work, glassblowing, hot sculpting, bit work, hot assembly, flameworking, cold working, water jet cutting, twisted cane pulling and cup casing. However, my passion lies with glassblowing, as it’s where my journey with glass first started.

What is your creative approach? Do you draw your ideas out or dive straight in with the materials?

I would say it depends on the scale of the work; if it’s a complex project, with many layers and aspects to be considered, I will draw out various ideas slowly by a process of experimentation, using a range of materials and styles. If it’s simply creating one-off pieces, I experiment with the material and colour application in a more playful way.

‘Ghostly dreams’ pays homage to beginner glass artists and their dreams of having their own tools to use when creating their work. The glass diamond shears are moveable to function like real tools. Photo: Jianyun Ding.

You came to the UK from China to study. How was that experience and has it influenced the projects you have you created?

I was definitely affected by culture shock, in terms of both the environment and social interactions. It was hard at first, but, with the help of new friends, I’ve managed to find my place in the UK. This transfer of environments hasn’t particularly influenced my artwork, as my inspiration comes from other aspects of life.

What message(s) do you want to convey through your art? 

Through my art, I seek to explore the intricate layers of our emotions, the subtle balance between internal struggles and the outside world. I also investigate the delicate relationship between humanity and the environment.

What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment and why?
It has to be the diamond shears, particularly the Big Combo shears. They hold significance in my professional art practice, symbolising a milestone in my work and personal style. The glass diamond shears I made are emblematic of my identity as an individual artist, contributing to my recognisable artistic signature.

Do you have a favourite piece you have made? Why is it your favourite?

My favourite piece is my BA degree show installation, titled, ‘Please Don’t Doubt Your Faith (The Holy Relics)’. This work serves as a meta-reference to glassmaking while subtly expressing internal doubt. It features a complete set of basic glassblowing tools crafted as relics. I chose to work primarily in black, to convey formality, mystery and an aura of evil, with a gradient from black to fuchsia for the tentacles. The tentacles represent inner struggles and crawl on the plinth with different gestures, symbolising attempts to steal or sabotage the ‘holy relics’. This artwork reflects the journey of self-doubt experienced by artists, yet it also resonates with viewers who have battled their own dark thoughts and emerged stronger.

‘Don’t doubt your faith (The holy relics)’ elevates glassmaking tools to the status of religious icons amidst the tentacles of self doubt for the artist. Photo: Jianyun Ding.

This work achieved acclaim when it was shown in Prague, Czech Republic, at the Stanislav Libensky award exhibition for young artists in 2023 and was acquired for the permanent collection of the Prague Gallery of Czech Glass.

Some of the exquisite vessels from ‘Please don’t doubt your faith (The holy relics)’ . Photo: Dave Williams.

You have had your work selected for this year’s British Glass Biennale. Tell us about that piece.

The artwork ‘Refined relic’ has a humble yet captivating presence, with a single artefact enveloped in many metallic hues. It had to be created with care as it underwent the brutality of the glassblowing process. It levitates with an unnatural aura within a transparent dome, giving the feeling of being held by a divine force or entity. The piece exudes a bold sense of opulence, symbolising not only the artist’s dedication to the craft and how much it means on a personal level, but also the journey to find balance with the expectation to achieve a gold standard in each piece of work we artists make on a regular basis.

‘Refined relic’ has been selected for the British Glass Biennale. Photo: Brynn Hill.
Detail featuring diamond shears in ‘Refined relic’. Photo: Jianyun Ding.

Where is your glass practice heading next?

As I conclude my education in the UK, my glass practice is shifting towards the glass industry, where I’ll be involved in assisting artists, engaging the public in glassmaking, or working in production.

Professionally, I’ll build on my established personal style, exploring new possibilities and unexpected outcomes in my work. I aim to participate in competitions, exhibitions and artist residencies both within and outside the UK, utilising these opportunities to showcase my evolving artistry.

And finally…

I’m eager to explore public installations, with the aim of either providing solace or drawing attention to specific social issues. My goal is to make meaningful contributions and statements to both the public and Society at large through my art.

About the artist

Jianyun Ding working on her glass art.

Jiayun Ding is a passionate glass artist and member of CGS, dedicated to pushing the boundaries of traditional glassblowing. Holding a first class honours BA degree from the University of Sunderland, Jiayun’s journey in glass has been enriched by intensive courses at the Corning Museum of Glass, US, where she explored Venetian glassblowing techniques and medieval glass.

With a solid foundation in Visual Communication Design from the Communication University of China, Jiayun brings a unique perspective to her art practice. Her professional journey includes internships at glass studios including Bristol Blue Glass and London Glassblowing.

Find out more via the website:

Main feature image: ‘Is there any free will in the communication?’ explores the theme of the mental health of contemporary and ineffective social communication. Photo: Dave Williams.

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