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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Absolute Zero’ glass exhibit at Memorial Union Art Gallery combines science, art

Featured artist Felicia LeRoy tells us more about glass art
Beneath the Surface and Fleeting Presence, Carolyn Spears.
Emma Kozina
Beneath the Surface and Fleeting Presence, Carolyn Spears.

Artists Felicia LeRoy and Carolyn Spears work with molten glass, some of the hottest material on earth, yet their recent exhibit “Absolute Zero connotes the coldest temperature possible.

Curated by University of Wisconsin Assistant Professor of Glass Working and Faculty Director of The Studio Helen Lee, “Absolute Zero” is a glass art exhibit presented by the Wisconsin Union for free public access at the Main Gallery in Memorial Union.

“Absolute Zero” is part of ongoing glass exhibits and events that will be available for students to enjoy throughout the school year in honor of 60 years of glass at UW.


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LeRoy is an artist who has experience working with various subject matters. Her work puts a unique lens on the interweaving and connections between the body, technology and the environment. She critiques and studies topics of the body, ontology and our own understandings of our spatial place in the world. She utilizes forensic methodology as well as traditional and nontraditional inquiry to seek understanding of the human body in relation to others and non-human bodies.

Recently, her projects have been challenging and detangling boundaries between self and other. Agency and the ever-changing nature of all ‘things’ are main topics of interest. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design for her master’s in fine arts in 2017 and UW for her bachelor’s in fine arts in 2014.

LeRoy spoke with The Badger Herald about her work and the exhibit.

More about the exhibit

Upon entry, “Absolute Zero” greets visitors with a chillingly beautiful sense of minimalism. Ice, water, black and white make up the main colors and content. It’s almost as if time freezes inside the rectangular gallery space.

The title itself gives audiences the correct expectation that the exhibit will feature art that appears cold or icy. Lee pitched the idea for “Absolute Zero” along with many others to celebrate 60 years of glass at the university, LeRoy said. Lee reached out to LeRoy about joining the exhibit, emphasizing the term “absolute zero as the coldest possible temperature on the Kelvin scale. Things progressed from there.

LeRoy praised Lee’s creativity and said she learned a lot through the process of creating the artworks for the gallery. Working with icy subject matter through a hot process specifically was new to her.

“[The idea of ‘Absolute Zero’ is] planted somewhere that’s very poetic and beautiful and also like a nod towards the scientific,” LeRoy said.

According to LeRoy, the UW Glass Lab is a special place, and this extends to its name. While it could have been named the “Glass Studio,” the name “Glass Lab” signifies an appreciation to the scientific aspect of glass working.

“There is an intersection of art and science and where those things are in conversation,” LeRoy said.

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The Pieces

One of the first pieces that meets the eye is a set of three glass cameo engravings by LeRoy. Mirroring the image of ice drifting across the water, this piece was created from photographs of brash ice taken from aboard the S/V Antigua in Spitsbergen.

LeRoy said this is one of the works she is especially proud of because the engraving process was something challenging and rewarding for her to learn after working with glass for the past 10 years.

On the adjacent wall, Spears showcases a similar-looking set of three cyanotype prints she named “Fleeting Presence.” Made of ice from Lake Mendota and Iceland glacial chunks, these prints show ice exposed in direct sunlight for 30 minutes, melting and flowing.

LeRoy and Spears’ artworks seem to be in conversation with each other. LeRoy shared they were in close contact with each other during the process of the exhibit’s creation, but they had never worked together previously.

“[The process was] wonderful,” LeRoy remarked in regard to getting to know someone with similar subject material and ideas.

The cyanotype prints and the cameos look texturally similar, but the processes of making them are quite different, LeRoy said.

Near the back of the gallery, natural light pours in through the windows, drawing attention to the compositions of art. A print by LeRoy on the back sidewall depicts her work with buoys and data logs. A buoy is pictured drifting through waters while glaciers encircle the background. Next to the image shows a data log that’s constantly documenting new coordinates.

This is another artwork she is most proud of.

LeRoy’s “Datalog” and buoy piece has an intriguing story. Coined as the drifter buoy, her free-blown acrylic buoy’s motions are tracked through an altimeter, accelerometer and GPS to track speed, angle, and x, y and z coordinates. This produces a model of drift patterns near glaciers in Norway. It was modeled after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Global Drifter Array buoys and the Lagrangian Drifter Laboratory buoys.

As the ice becomes thinner and melts overtime at increased rates, this artwork collects data on the changing drift patterns. The waters in this region impact the entire Earth climate, showing how we are all interconnected with each other and nonhuman bodies.

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Why Students Should Care

LeRoy discussed two main reasons why students, or anyone in Madison, would benefit from visiting “Absolute Zero.”

First, it’s accessible to the public.

“I don’t think that everyone knows or, maybe, occasionally people take for granted resources they have available to them to like experiencing different perspectives and cultures,” LeRoy said about the abundance of free, public art exhibits on the UW–Madison campus.

LeRoy’s pieces on display also include an audio piece that places listeners in a meditative state.

Her piece “Melt” reflects on her time spent in the Arctic and includes headphones with ASMR-like noises from the Arctic.

“[It] was like a big step back from everyday life and of getting this bigger picture of a much larger, more complex system that we live within. That’s easy to brush off and you have the pressure of every day, but I feel like listening to that piece allows you a minute to slow down. That can be really, really impactful sometimes,” LeRoy said of the experience of being immersed in the world of ice and water.

With exams and the stresses of everyday life, students could all benefit from the free public access to “Absolute Zero.”

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