Art of Glass: Emily Endo Interviewed

I met Emily Endo (they/them) during the 2021 Emerging Artist Residency at the Pilchuck Glass School, almost two years into the pandemic. Endo’s medium ranges from kiln-formed glass, fibers, installation, olfactory, and natural materials. 

There seems to be two balancing elements in Endo’s work: scientific discoveries and mysticism. Things like casting glass, dying fibers, and making olfactory components require a certain meticulousness and knowledge of chemistry. And patience—lots of patience. What really intrigued me, though, were the playful, pastel imageries that emerged, such as fungi, earth crytals, marine biology—even self-reproducing seahorses—and Endo’s approach to them from a queer perspective.

We both hail from Portland, and I had been traveling for two years to various residencies while Endo had moved out to the Mojave desert. During our regular outings to grocery stores, I would hear about Endo’s past life in Portland, having served as the Fibers Department Chair at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. But what’s more exciting is their current exploration at the High Desert Observatory, an education and fabrication studio they co-founded in Joshua Tree. —May Maylisa Cat

May Maylisa Cat Before glass, you worked with sculptures and fibers. How did you get into glass and why?

Emily Endo I am interested in glass because of the associations it carries with it: magic, science, fragility, and preservation. I was introduced to glass casting in 2011. Thanks to the support of Bullseye Projects and the glass community of Portland, I was able to gain access to facilities and continue exploring the material. 

All of the mediums I use have a connection to the body, transformation and fantasy.

MMC As a material, glass has so much built into it: fragility, heat source, transparency/opacity, and functional/non-functional. And instead of blown glass, like in a hot shop, you cast glass by making a mold and putting it in a kiln. What are some imageries, textures, and colors that would reoccur in your work?

EE A major recurring quality within my work is transparency. I am interested in transparent surfaces and materials because they reference magic, fantasy, liquid, veils, and ghosts. 

I’m also drawn to textures that imply the passage of time and/or a reaction to the environment: crystallization, cumulative drips, fog, and erosion. I like coupling these surfaces with materials associated with bodily warmth such as hair and leather.

My color palette—light cyan blue, green, and pink—is influenced by cartoons, science fiction, and toys marketed to girls in the 1980s–1990s. I continually use light cyan blue because it is the color of cool clean water in cartoons. Green is associated with amphibious skin, alien life, sickness and being labeled as sick by society. Pink is the color of the flushed body and the color associated with the femme. Recently I have begun incorporating translucent yellows and ambers into my work (the colors of plant essences and bodily fluid).

Gradient color tests made with glass frits.

MMC I remember you making these color tests for the lighter color palettes in the studio, because the manufacturers would only have saturated colors for glass that made them look like Jolly Ranchers. You also mentioned aliens, amphibians, plant essences, and science fiction. Is there a specific environment that’s integral to your work?

EE Over the last few years my work has been strongly influenced by the desert and Southern California.

I live in the Mojave desert outside of Joshua Tree. Living in this environment has prompted me to think a lot about water—particularly the absence and memory of water, water collection systems, dry lake beds, and the concept and creation of the oasis. 

This has led me to become interested in the relationship of the body to water. In my work, I use water as a metaphor for our enmeshed relationship with the natural world. Water traverses the boundaries and borders of our bodies and countries.

MMC I can see how the desert would heighten one’s interest with water. I mean, for one, there’s a lack of it, a drought—you navigate the dry, hot desert differently than the rainy Pacific Northwest. For another, we humans are made up of two-thirds water. We’re literally a walking body of water. Which brings me to my next questions about bodies:glass references the body quite a lot due to its association with the vessel. Here, not only you are introducing non-human bodies like sea horses, amphibians, and fungi, you are also referencing the queer body through references to asexuality. Why this interest?

EE I am interested asexuality as a way of acknowledging other ways of being and environmental engineering on a macro and micro scale. By looking at non-binary relationships and reproduction patterns within nature we can begin to imagine a flexible world outside of ourselves.

MMC There seems to be a missing conversation in the cishet male-dominated glass world when it comes to queer perspectives.

EE The glass field is opening up in terms of concepts, materiality, and voices. Through my own work, I am interested in continuing to expand the conversation to include femme and non-binary perspectives, as well as a non-hierarchical approach to materiality. Going forward I want to delve deeper into the integration of art, ecology, gender, and chemistry.

Endo mixing pigments and materials.

MMC Since we were in the residency at the Pilchuck Glass School together, what were some new things you’ve learned?

I experimented with the integration of glass casting and 3D printing at the Pilchuck residency. As I worked with the 3D printer I began to consider it a self-replicating entity. For example the 3D printer can be used to print parts for itself. This led me to research asexual reproduction and its relationship to transformation and world building.

MMC Something exciting that you paired with glass is scent. How did olfactory become part of your work?

EE I first started thinking about olfactory art after attending a free workshop held by the Institute of Art and Olfaction. I was struck by the visceral history of scent. For example, the ancient Romans scented the wings of doves and the ancient Egyptians wore cones of perfumed fat on their heads that were designed to melt and drip onto the wearer’s skin. The traditional processes used to extract oil from flowers and plants feel very sculptural, performative, and corporeal. In a moment where so much of our world is experienced through digital means, the sensory has the potential to ground and impact us in unexpected ways.

MMC As a heavily visual person, I never thought about smell as an artistic component, but it is so important in our world. It determines our moods, aid in our survival, and I read that even plants use scent to attract pollinators or repel predators.

What was your process like in creating olfactory offerings for the site-specific exhibition at Neutra VDL House in LA? Was it scientific? Intuitive?

EE The process had several stages: the beginning was intuitive and observational, the middle associative, and the end scientific.

I am interested in the ability of scent to tell an invisible story through descriptive language and sensory experience. I think of it as creating an invisible vanitas painting. 

I began the project by spending time in the space—making lists of the materials in the house, plant species, the colors, quality of light, and my bodily responses to each room. After that I arranged the words into collections of key elements—so that each list was both a material list and sort of poem. 

Next, I worked on the actual scent construction—creating each scent element through aroma molecule building blocks and then worked on the puzzle of fitting them all together. 

I enjoy the process of scent construction because it allows you to delve deep into the sensorial and associate qualities of a material: thinking about how it feels, the texture, memories, the reasons it actually smells the way it does. One interesting aspect of this type of work is that you can imply texture (rough, smooth, porous) and space (open, tight).

MMC Can you give us an example?

EE For example, the scent of mirrors can be thought of in a variety of ways: mirrors are made from metal and glass and they imply continuous liminal space. I started thinking about the smells of metal and reflective materials: how it hits your nose, how it feels cold. And the conceptual possibilities of mirrors—maybe they’re filled with white smoke (smoke and mirrors), maybe they’re watery—but not deep.

Endo holding 3D printed objects.

MMC Not only do you construct scents and physical objects, you also put them in an installation. How do you approach space in relation to the medium you use?

EE I am interested in the physical reaction a viewer has to a space and the objects within it. Since glass is considered a precious and fragile material, I often precariously suspend it so that the viewer becomes hyper-aware of their body’s boundaries and movements.

My project at the Neutra VDL House consisted of vessels filled with takeaway vials of scent. I like the idea that your relationship to a space could change when offered a gift. I wonder if that makes the viewer more conscious and invested in the experience.

MMC So, before the Mojave Desert, you lived in Portland, OR. While you were here, you also had a pop-up gallery at the record store Beacon Sound. What was it like?

EE In 2018, Michael Endo and I started a gallery called Dust to Dust inside a shared space with Beacon Sound and Babylon Vintage in Portland. 

Dust to Dust has a non-hierarchical curatorial mission. To us, this stems from a belief that all objects have meaning and no object or class of object has more or less meaning than another. In practice, exhibitions feature everything from more traditional forms of art (painting and sculpture) to ice cream, floral design, perfume, bongs, and functional design. 

Since leaving our brick and mortar gallery space and relocating to Joshua Tree, we have focused on collaborative curation through pop-ups with organizations such as High Desert Test Sites and Carnation Contemporary.

MMC You also co-founded an education and fabrication studio, the High Desert Observatory. What do you hope to accomplish there?

EE We are working towards making our lifestyle and studio as integrated as possible. We compost and collect rainwater. The water from our home and studio is reused to water the trees and the garden. This year we began transforming our space following permaculture design principles. Beginning by creating earthworks to reverse soil degradation and digging swails to direct rainwater. Our aim is to create more habitat for wildlife while also providing our home and studio with food and materials.

In terms of teaching, our goal is to offer immersive, hands-on learning experiences that highlight a non-hierarchical view of materials and making. We are designing more classes and projects that incorporate materials considered waste as well as classes that focus on local and drought tolerant plant cultivation and their use in natural dyeing and painting.

Emily Endo.

MMC At the Pilchuck residency, we both talked a lot about the discrimination and harassment in craft, as seen in Craft Equity. Luckily, there’s GEEXGLASS, which aims to establish BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ leadership and safe space for glass artists, but it’s still a lot of volunteer labor that needs more institutional support and funding. What do you think the craft world can benefit from?

EE There’s an opportunity to have a conversation around ecology, material, and labor sources. Craft is inherently connected to materiality and the people who make and process those materials. It is a natural extension of craft to discuss the mining of precious metals, soil health, and colonialism. 

Additionally there is a need for new voices, and an acknowledgement of appropriation, theft, and exclusion.

MMC You have a collaborative project coming up that includes what we’ve talked about: permaculture, water, fragrance, glass. Can you tell me about it?

EE Over the last year, I have been working with Dakota Gearhart and Sasha Fishman on a project that reimagines earth’s geological time scale from an oceanic perspective.

Starting with collaborative research on underwater topology and aquatic lifeforms, and moving into individual art-making, we are working with water-specific materials like algae, shells, and salt, and each integrating these ancient materials with more contemporary objects like glass, fragrance, and digital video. The final outcome of the project will be a virtual exhibit, publication and three individual bodies of work that are bridged through our collaborative research on “Deep Oceanic Time.” In preparation for the project release, we met for two weeks in March at my desert studio to design and fabricate work together.

In our previous individual works, we have investigated oceanic materiality and its transformation into artworks that explore ethical resource extraction, invented digital organisms, and mythological transmutation. Now, inspired by both factual and fictional speculations of earth’s oceanic narratives, we are presenting new work that observes water, its history, and its future.

MMC Required reading?


Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering,and Queer Affect by Mel Y. Chen

A Feminist Companion to the Posthumanities edited by Cecilia Åsberg and Rosi Braidotti 

Bodies of Water by Astrida Neimanis

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Material Feminisms edited by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Sex Ecologies edited by Stefanie Hessler

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