French sculptor Jean-Michel Othoniel's installation, done in collaboration with glass artisans of Firozabad, reflects India's growth

From the high-tech glass blowing facilities in Paris to the blazing furnaces of Firozabad, the glass hub of India, French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel covered a long distance to create “The Precious Stonewall”. His vision, together with the expertise of the glass artisans of Firozabad, is on view at Lalit Kala Akademi till September 4.

The 4,200 glass bricks with 150 glass bead necklaces embracing the installation from all sides is a metaphor for many things, one of them being the development and prosperity the new India is witnessing. Invited by the French Embassy in India in collaboration with Culturesfrance (Paris) and the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, Othoniel saw heaps and piles of construction material wherever he went in India and thus was born the idea of an amber wall representing the rapid growth here. “On seeing these bricks by the roadside, it felt as if they are waiting to be used to make a house. So much of energy and activity all around…,” says the artist who brought his own glass-blower from Paris along to interact with the glass artisans in Firozabad.

“Though I am using the Indian glass blowing technique, in which the pipe is longer than the one used in Europe, I thought that since the two can connect on the basis of technique, the task of getting them to understand the concept would be easier. It turned out to be a real cultural exchange,” he adds.

Othoniel has been working with the medium since 1993 and has fashioned magnificent creations like ‘Le Kiosque des Noctambules', which is installed at the entrance of the metro station Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre in Paris, and ‘Crystal Palace' for the Fondation Cartier in Paris out of glass.

“The material is fragile if you break it, but if it doesn't it lasts for years. My works are a constant play between this fragility and strength,” he explains.

Othoniel is not an artisan himself; he gets the glass blower to blow the glass for his installation. Here too, he got the craftsmen of Firozabad to make the bricks fitted with mirrors inside, which were then made into a 13.7 ft high structure.

“While in Europe glass is viewed as a practical object like glass or furniture, here the material being used for bangles acquires a different dimension. Glass is even looked as a copy of stones here. It's amazing how the craft that has its roots in Europe has been made its own here,” says the artist pointing to the identical shape and size of every brick used in the piece.

Giving an insight into the glass industry of Firozabad, Othoniel says, “While everywhere the glass industry is collapsing, it is thriving here. In Firozabad, every single family is employed in this trade but nobody is without work. People are not rich but comfortable and humble. It's the glass bangles that have kept the glass industry going here. Everywhere else China has entered the picture, learnt the glass craft and ruined the indigenous industry but they haven't been able to do so here because you have a very special product called bangles, which every woman wears. Also, I saw no child working in the glass factory. I saw many children, who were earlier working in the factory, going to school. I was really impressed.”

The installation will travel to Paris, where it will be showcased at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 2011 as part of a major exhibition involving India, titled “Paris-Delhi-Bombay”.