MFA (Glassworking Spring 2019), United States
“I will highly recommend (to stay at and participate with) the programme (‘365 Haridwar’) to other artists! I 100% will apply again in my future and would love to attend in / after 2019. This was a unique experience because most residencies do not have a learning / research aspect.”
Emily Kuchenbecker stayed with us at Haridwar during the December / January period and participated with our artist residency programme. Emily is an MFA (Glassworking) from Virginia Commonwealth University- Richmond. She is Co-Chair of Digital Media Committee- Glass Art Society. She has received many awards (David Smith Award, Juried Student Exhibition, 2015, and Art Excellence Award, Verona Area High School-Class of 2012), grants and participated in several exhibitions.
Emily has a deep love for nature, yoga, and spirituality. Her work engages the mind, body and soul and unveils the spiritual component in many aspects of life.
Being a maker is an aspect of her spiritual practice. Being a practitioner of Yoga and meditation, she is interested in the movement of her body and mind in relation to her perception of the world. Primarily using glass, she examines transparency, reflection, light, and optics, to evaluate imperfections of our perception. The act of creating takes her to a place in her mind where she is thoroughly and completely at ease. Time seems to dissipate and she is no longer important. She longs for this mental state of emptiness; becoming completely present in the moment. Everything she experiences is connected through process, and the repetitive movements of making become ritual, defining her craft. Her practice is a deep quest of the self, where she interrogates what it means to be human. By having the ability of being conscious, humans have a sense of selves as beings. This sense allows to connect with intuition, realizing that there is something that goes further than physical experiences.
(Image below: Impressions of Nature “We are One” Site Specific Installation 2015 Blown Glass, Silver Nitrate, Natural Environment)
The beauty Emily has found in repetitive patterns throughout nature engage her curiosity, and reveal a deeper order in all living things. She questions the human experience to unravel the way that humans see the world. Whether humans realize this or not, the current meaning of time is manifested through perception of the celestial bodies. A week is constructed from seven rising and settings of the sun, a month is based on the lunar cycle, the year is one revolution around the sun. Humans have become disconnected to the natural cycles that dictate sensual experiences in the world. Time is nothing but a bully to experiences, a force that dictates what sense of reality really is. To view everything as interrelated, humans allow selves to remove the limits of perception, and just be. In realizing a connection to nature, one begins to realize a connection to oneself.
(Image to the left: You Are Eternal Mandala 2016, Flameworked Borosilicate)
Intrinsic to Emily’s practice is the circle. A symbol for cycles, movement, continuation, and the universe. Circles are present in the natural world and in the celestial bodies. They are present in her life being a glass artist- constantly rotating the material around its own axis. Circles define her style as a hoop dancer, where her body rotates on its own axis. Through all her creative endeavours, her work engages the viewer in self contemplation; perhaps creating a moment of connection where a one can reconnect with themselves and transcend the present moment. Her lifelong goal is to simply honour the beauty that is all around.
Project A: “Orb Exploration”
Emily was trained in chanting of Aum and other mantras by Tarun Kumar at AZIMVTH Ashram. She spent her new year’s eve at ‘365 Haridwar’.
This image shows Emily at work at AZIMVTH Ashram.
Each orb is formed from molten glass held at a temperature of 2150. Using a large hollow steel rod, the glass is gathered from a furnace and air is blown through the rod. A bubble then forms in the clear glass and creates an air pocket which to be formed by tools and the addition of more air. Glassblowing commonly requires two people so a team was needed to create these orbs. After the glass is gathered and formed into a sphere, it is kept in a kiln for 16 hours at 960 degrees so the glass molecules can release stress and become stable. When the glass is at room temperature Emily uses chemicals (silver nitrate) to create a mirror finish on the interior of the glass. This finish creates a reflective surface within the material.
Photos taken during the 365 ‘Haridwar’ residency are a part of a larger project in which Emily has titled “Orb Explorations.” Being a lover of nature and travel, these orbs are an item that she takes with on all her adventures. She uses them to create a relationship with nature which for her is a spiritual encounter. The orbs are viewed as persons and by placing them in the natural environment Emily seeks to find a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world- something that has been lost throughout western culture.
The following two images show – Modern American Orbs, Ancient Sphatik (Natural Quartz) and Full Moon: Man Made Mirror and Heavenly Mirror at AZIMVTH Ashram
Emily gifted these orbs and the photographs to AZIMVTH Ashram. Some of the photographs are shown below.
Project B: “Salute to the Sun”
This project was created at the ‘365 Haridwar’ Artist Residency in Haridwar, India. Emily became inspired by the unique craft of individual artisans, temples, and the holy water of the Ganges throughout the city of Haridwar. After visiting various temples, prayer ceremonies and partaking sessions of Om chanting and Sun Salutations, she was drawn to the imagery of the sun rising over the Ganges river. She was overwhelmed with inspiration and joy after learning that the sun determines the time of prayers on the Ganges, and is a soul figure in the context of morning salutations and mantras. She chose to use holy seeds of Lotus and Rudraksh to create this work because of their unique ability to hold information. She has learned from her time in India, that imagery, mysticism and philosophy of the east is rich in symbolism. This artwork is a representation of such symbolism.
The project was started with a priest coming over to AZIMVTH Ashram to conduct a fire-ceremony (Homa or Havan) to bless the artist and her art with an auspicious note. This added a performative layer to the piece.
The art-work has a central circle composed of 108 rudraksha seeds. The central Rudraksha is from a tree in Haridwar. 108 being a symbolic number in anatomy, astrology and prayer. besides the 2 kinds of holy seeds, she also used beads of a Tulsi (Basel) mala that was for long in use for meditation at AZIMVTH Ashram. Tulsi bead is a common material used in the Mala, (a tool for prayer in which one counts 108 seeds through touch) to depict the holy Ganges river. She got the wood beads hand dyed by local artisans. These represent rays of the Sun, and the expanding energy of the life each individual processes. The seeds and beads are strung together by gold polished wire made in Haridwar.
The final work was taken to the Ganges at the captive ritual bathing ghat at Arya Nagar, the cluster of which AZIMVTH Ashram is a part, to receive blessings of mother Ganges. Emily gifted this spiritual art to AZIMVTH Ashram where it is used with Surya Namaskar and yogic practices.
Over half a dozen local artisans with skills of carpentry, wood working, dyeing, meditating, goldsmithing and praying were collaborated with by Emily, with support from Tarun Kumar.
Project C: Moon Meditation
Emily made copious drawings of phases for Moon – one drawing for each of the night she has been alive for. This will be a life-long project. She will make a book having pages corresponding to each night of 110 years. At AZIMVTH Ashram, she reached up till year 2014 – drawing one Moon for each night since her birth. This may be her own individual meditation book for entire life.
Project D: Creative writing
Emily reflected upon her experiences and spirituality. She made rough notes which she will later review and publish online.
Impact & Next Levels
Emily believes that being in not only the natural environment, but also the spiritual and historical environment of Haridwar will allow her to be knowledgeable externally, and internally and she takes these back to America and use in her artistic practice. She plans to generate many drawings/paintings based on her experiences and hopes to utilize areas like temples, ashrams, the Ganges, and Himalayan Mountains to inform her imagery and spiritual practice as an artist.
Emily plans to bring the knowledge gained during this residency and share amongst her peers. After receiving MFA, she wants to become a full time teacher of Craft (Glass Art). Using glass as a material is very movement oriented and meditative. She would like to bring that to the forefront of the educational system and teach in a way that allows students to feel connected to the microcosm of their body, and the macrocosm of the universe. Emily is currently a Chair member to Glass Art Society ( an international non-profit organization) in which she plans to propose a “Yoga for Glassblowers” class at various craft schools in the United States.
Moon Book: Emily will complete her Moon Book and exhibit it later.
Update: More than a year after her residency with AZIMVTH,during the holy period of the Nine New Nights (Navratri), in April 2019, she has completed the Moon Book project. It is on exhibit now.
About the following two images – Emily at the studio at AZIMVTH Ashram. A proud AZIMVTH Fellow on the final day…
“I had a wonderful time (staying at and training with AZIMVTH) and learned so much. I can not wait to share my experiences and use the new found knowledge to write my thesis next year. This residency has helped me realise things about myself, my art practice, and spirituality as a whole. I can not thank you enough.”