Tim Tate’s artwork is touchy-feely, but only because he literally wants you to touch it.
“From an early age, we’re taught not to touch artwork,” says the 46-year-old glass artist, whose exhibition, “…But What Have We Gained?,” opens Friday, March 9, at the Fraser Gallery in Bethesda. Audience interaction, Tate says, adds a dimension to his art. “There’s an intellectual, an auditory, a visual, and an emotional component to every one of my pieces. Why shouldn’t there be a tactile quality, too?”
One of the pieces on display, a conglomeration of mirrored, silver-plated spheres, is fully realized only after people touch it; their hands are reflected in the glass so that the pattern repeats infinitely. “I want people’s hands to become part of what’s being shown in order to demystify glass,” Tate says. “It’s not fragile like most people think it is.” Welcome Home (pictured), a blown-glass globe with a cast-glass base, contains an LCD screen, a digital video camera, and speakers. The camera records guests approaching the vessel, and a voice repeats the phrase “welcome home” through the speakers as their images appear on-screen. The piece is dedicated to Tate’s mother, who passed away in 1999.
“Everyone’s gone away from a loved one and then come back into their arms,” he says. “The piece speaks to that experience.”
The piece also speaks to the larger theme of the exhibition. Tate says the title refers to the aftermath of losing a loved one. “It’s about what’s left behind,” he says. Cross shapes and glass vessels in the form of burning hearts are common features of his work; originally crafted as small tokens for his mother, Tate began filling his reliquaries with evocative objects and capping them with glass pieces molded to resemble flames following her death. The flame image, Tate says, comes from childhood trips with his mother to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. But he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t want people dwelling on how his artwork acts as a personal salve—he’d rather they experience their own catharsis through his work.
Most importantly, Tate hopes that his utilization of new media, running on computer-processing power, will yield a new approach to glass blowing. “Up until the 1970s and ’80s, glass blowing was a craft-specific art form,” Tate says, focusing on everyday items such as bowls and vases. Catriona Fraser, owner of Fraser Gallery, believes he’s achieving his goal.
“Tim is forcing people who’ve only considered glass to be a craft to look at it as a fine art,” she says. “He brings (artistic) depth to it.”
“…But What Have We Gained?” is on view from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, April 7, at Fraser Gallery, 7700 Wisconsin Avenue Suite E, Bethesda. Free. (301)-718-9651.