From Fins to Wings

Thomas Medicus' meticulous glass sculpture gives us a fresh view on every turn.

For Thomas Medicus, an Austrian artisan, glass is the ultimate medium: He molds it to reflect surrealism that he sees in nature. Metamorphosis, in particular, is a point of fascination for him.

With his latest project, "Emulsifier," Medicus shows metamorphosis as a fluid illusion. The glass sculpture pirouettes to display four figures (most transformative art only shows two—Medicus says this is the first to show four). The piece is only one foot high, one foot wide, and one foot tall. Still, it took Medicus four months to complete. He started with a computer and mapped out the spaces where the glass would go. By layering the strips and placing them in precise locations, he was able to give the appearance that one image disappears into the next as the piece rotates.

Then came the drawings. Medicus hand painted both sides of 160 strips of glass, each one-eight of an inch thick. He decided against painting entire slabs of glass and then cutting them into strips because he thought the overlap between images would be less precise. Instead, Medicus drew the illustrations on paper, scanned them onto a computer, and colorized them digitally. Then he laid them behind the glass, utilizing its transparency to trace and paint the exact digital images. Finally, using a laser cutter, he fit the strips into a slotted wooden base. The base is stacked on top of a record player—powered by the engine of an ice machine—that allows the sculpture to rotate 360 degrees. Each turn signifies a change: from bird, to fish, to ossified bird, to ossified fish. Once the sculpture has gone full circle, the entire pattern is reincarnated.

The two animals, the fish and the bird, were not chosen randomly, says Medicus. The bird is an obvious emblem of freedom; and he chose the fish because it flies through water. Together they form a constant cycle: a fish, leaping across three classes of life to become a bird, before returning to the sea as a fish again. By warping evolutionary boundaries, Medicus says he's touching upon the notion of free will. The optical illusions in "Emulsifier" gave him the ability to combine incompatible matter and play with our perception of nature. "It's a game of human cognition," he says, "but there is a hint of disenchantment as well."