Richard Wheater is an artist working in glass, exploring our relationship with the natural environment. We went to the private view of his installation ‘Them and Us’ on Saturday at Dean Clough galleries in Halifax. Over a period of several months, Wheater travelled around the UK with a mobile glass furnace. For each location he worked in, he made a number of glass birds relevant to that location (e.g. Sparrows in Sheffield). At dawn, on location, he created his glass birds and then released them into the sky. Needless to say they came crashing back to earth. The installation consisted of several large format photographs of these events, some displayed in light boxes; the much-travelled furnace; and a few glass birds (mostly broken).
I found it remarkably moving. Wheater ‘released’ the birds just as you would a real bird, and in the photographs the glass birds were caught in flight above his up-stretched arms. Although I knew the project was doomed to failure, I still wanted them to fly. I felt that the artist’s act was one of humbleness and respect for nature. Although he could make these beautiful glass birds, they were not a patch on the real thing. It was also, for me, literally a ‘letting go’. As an artist, we make too much stuff. As people, we hoard too many possessions. It is the making, the creative act of living, that is important. For Wheater, it is also a political comment on the collapse of industries such as glass in the UK, as companies source cheap imports from abroad.