Interview with Christian Thornton

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Christian Thornton is a glass artist and the artistic director of Studio Xaquixe in Oaxaca. For the Fiesta de Maguey y Maiz, he has been working with Bartaku (FoAM) to create Nube del Oro, a glass sculpture that will entwine with a maguey (or agave) plant in Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. Shelbatra Jashari interviewed Christian during his visit to Brussels as one of the EITC’s artists in transience.

This edited extract of the interview has been cross-posted with permission from Performing Pictures' October newsletter.

Can you tell us how you became a glass artist?

I started to work in a stained glass store when I was fifteen years old to make some extra money for cigarettes and guitar strings. I started to buy my own supplies and make my own things, they started to sell very quickly, and by the time I was seventeen I was running the studio. The guy who owned it went to New York City to start another studio. I went there to work on a large project and I worked for a lot of different maestros in various techniques. I worked in conservation for the Metropolitan Museum for six years, fabricating for high-end architects, authentication for Tiffany. I always liked doing many different things.

I started working at a hot glass studio called Urban Glass as an educator and as a main technician, building equipment and fixing problems. Around 2000, I was invited to come down to the Virgin Islands to see if it was possible to use recycled glass to make into nice objects for the tourists. There was a Oaxacan woman who came to visit that project to learn about glass. She found out that I was interested in creating these studios that would be friendly to the environment. That was how I got involved in building the studio [at Xaquixe]. I became a partner in the studio because I really liked the project and I really liked Oaxaca.

The project you are working on with Bart is all about the maguey (or agave) plant. Can you tell us more about that?

There’s this magical thing that happens with the agave, which is part of the culture and heritage of Oaxaca. The plant matures over the course of anything from eight to a hundred years, and at that point it will take all of the energy [it has stored] and thrust this column out of the centre of the plant. The one in my garden that we’ve been studying has been growing fourteen centimetres a day, until it reached eight metres high. At that speed, you can almost watch it grow. It seeds and flowers and goes through this grand ending of its life, because then the leaves start to wither, the heart shrinks and the whole thing falls over and dies.

So how are you working with this process that the plant goes through?

We made this [glass] cagework that goes on the top. It gets presented onto the plant and then waits for this process to happen...

Almost like a crown?

Yes, exactly! It’s an adornment of the magic and magnificence of this thing that happens. The structure will be hidden within the flower and be a conversation with the flower itself. It will go through a flowering process and there will be branches that come through this piece that we have made. Maybe the plant will reject it and break it into pieces and it will fall down, or maybe it will be in harmony with the piece and the two will come crashing down together.

As a gentleman brought up the other day at the presentation here [in Brussels], what about the glass that’s left behind?

It’s sort of this relic. It’s a very interesting situation afterwards, where the plant is decaying much quicker into the ground. The glass can either be swept up and recycled, or it can return back to the earth the same way as the plant, but it will take maybe 2000 years to turn back into complete dust.