The Glass Delusion

research project and short film

The Glass Delusion

Glassaugen at Müller Söhne, Wiesbaden, Germany


— Glass: is it just a solid, as it sounds when you tap it, or is it a liquid? If you wait long enough, say, billions of years, you will see a wine glass melt like an ice cube. A good theory that explains why glass seems unable to choose between liquid and solid, and why it is so idiosyncratic, is lacking.

This quote by scientist Liesbeth Janssen struck me, and I took it as a prompt to start looking at glass again, wearing a new pair of glasses, so to speak.

It appears that the windows through which light enters the room, the screen on which these sentences appear and the glasses through which we read these words are made of a substance that we do not really understand. We just know how it behaves.

The origin of the material that opened the door to the modern age has been the subject of many stories since ancient times, but the truth is that we simply do not know under what conditions the process that led to the discovery of glass took place. It was mainly a 'wonderful accident' in which a number of things came together by chance. The combination of sand, heat and natron led to a chemical reaction that created glass. But perhaps the most important element in this story is that someone, somewhere in the Syrian desert saw this, and as a result asked himself some essential questions: what is this, where did it come from and above all: can I repeat this process?'.

The narrative takes glass as a metaphor and material: to talk about transparency, both concretely and metaphorically: For example, through the glass architecture that brought light, air and space, or through references to the mirror as the symbol of vanity and inflated self-consciousness, with the lens as the shining prosthesis for our looking and magnifying the world, to the fragile screen of the smartphone that sucks in our image through the selfie and in turn shows it to whomever wants to look at it through another - whether or not cracked - glass screen, to the proverbial glass ceiling as a catch-all term to make a social problem almost physically tangible.

In this story, the narrator ties the fibre-optic cable to the 'glass tears' of 17th century scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. From there, it is only a small step from bulletproof glass to in vitro fertilisation, and can then suddenly and quite logically pass into a personal outpouring from the narrator, who himself appears to suffer from the historical syndrome we called this plan: Glass Delusion. In this case, people are under the delusion that they themselves are made of glass. One of the first known patients was Charles VI of France, nicknamed The Madman. The protagonist of Cervantes' The Lawyer of Glass had himself transported in a box of hay for safety reasons, in order not to break.

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— Is it only Bianca Castafiore’s voice who can break a glass? What misunderstanding led to the invention of the telescope? What is the sound of "question glass" and why is the mime actor sentenced to the cliché of a glass prison?

The Glass Delusion is a research project by Barbara Visser and Bart Haensel, which is alternately shared in audio, video, installation and live.

This is a live spectacle about a research wunderkammer, where the audience can watch, listen and see part of the research come to life. It's an afternoon with a number of special guests about glass delusion, secret knowledge, fables and facts from popular culture, and a good time to raise a glass to art and science.

Location: DordtYart, where the installation was realised in collaboration with RAAAF/Judith Roux and Anco de Jonge. Also made possible by: DordtYart, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Tijl Fonds/ Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, De Familie Film & Televisie, Fa. Müller Sohne and all others involved.
Cinematography in Germany: Jean Counet

The Glass Delusion Live, July 21st, 2019