Gaze: Seen and unseen worlds

This exhibition of intricate glass sculptures by Shelley James explores the frameworks that shape our perception.

The greatest show on earth: the circus captures our gaze and leads us to explore the threshold of what is possible. With the creation of the three ringed circus by P.T.Barnum in 1881, it also tested the boundary of our visual perception. Impossible to take in at once, this panoramic spectacle left the audience to grasp an impression of the whole, which danced on the fringe of their vision.

Shelley James’s intricate glass sculptures both fix and confound our gaze. They play with our understanding of form and rhythm, exploring the visual pathways that enable us to create a coherent world from a flickering stream of ambiguous cues. In this work, we are asked to question what we see, to examine the dialogue between perception and experience, eye and brain.

The work on show explores different approaches to shaping reality: from two dimensional patterns to three dimensional shapes and onto four dimensional forms that embrace time. James has collaborated with crystallographer Professor Brian Sutton to create pieces that capture the evolution of how we understand the physical world. Starting with the essential order of the Platonic solids and moving into the temporal relativity of quasi-periodic lattices, as defined by Sir Roger Penrose that extend to infinity without repetition, vibrating with possibility. To encapsulate these divergent symmetries, she has developed new techniques that include printing in hot glass and fusing together folded planes in cast glass forms.

These crystalline, illusory spaces, created by Shelley James transfix and disorient. They embrace the fugitive nature of spatial perception — uncertain and unbound — to examine the tension between seen and unseen worlds, internal structure and external form. Her work asks us to question the frameworks of our own perception and explore the boundaries between appearance and expression, material and virtual space.


To complement this exhibition, Shelley James has collaborated with composer Scott McLaughlin to create an immersive luminous score for a live musical performance, which will premier at the private view.

James’s glass sculptures sit at the heart of the piece and guide the performance. McLaughlin will shine a direct light through one of the sculptures, as it gently revolved on a turntable, creating a fractured pattern. He has defined the framework for each piece — tone, rhythm, mood – that allows the musician to respond directly to the fractured forms. A dynamic, shifting score. The composition was originally conceived for a cello but for this performance Dominic Lash, an accomplished bassist, will play the light score.

Each of the movements will feature a different sculpture and they will last a few minutes, before the next piece is placed on the light. There will be 5 movements in total and the performance can be enjoyed as either an individual movement or an entire composition.

This collaboration between James and McLaughlin explores the idea of resonance, the connection between waves of light and sound — dynamic frequencies that can profoundly move and enlighten. | @shelleyjames1

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Autumn 2015