‘The Material Is Alive’: Watch Artist Jes Fan Heat and Sculpt Glass to Build His Ethereal Sculptures

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Jes Fan In Flux." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

The Hong Kong-born, US-based artist Jes Fan is familiar with the idea of being “in flux,” which he describes as a “stage of perpetual confusion, not completely at place with one category.” 

He has both a personal and professional understanding of the subject. Working to sculpt glass, as he does, is a study in patience and constant change. “You have to move so quick because the material is alive,” he says in an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the “New York Close Up” series. “It was liquid, now it’s almost plastic, and then it’ll become more like what we think of what glass is.” 

In the video, viewers can watch as Fan blows, rolls, and heats the material, sculpting it into intricate forms that recall bodily organs. 

Fan has also experienced flux in his personal life: he describes the challenges of growing up queer, moving to a new country, and embracing his identity as a trans man. His work often confronts the categories into which materials, and even identities, are organized, leaving out so many who feel “other.” 

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Jes Fan In Flux." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Jes Fan In Flux.” © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Going through the process of transitioning, injecting masculine hormones into his own body, led Fan to begin incorporating bodily materials with his work. 

“Using testosterone to masculinize my body is in some way similar to using a chisel to carve out a surface,” he tells Art21. “In a way, you’re sculpting your body. And in a way, I’m also like that glass, in this liquid transformation, or perpetually in flux.”

Right now, Fan’s work is on view as part of the “Socrates Annual 2019” at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, alongside 14 other artists working in a range of materials.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. See Fan’s work in the “Socrates Annual 2019” at Socrates Sculpture Park, through March 8, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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