Relativistic Surfaces – Glass Process



“Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Marcus Aurelius


Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but they only have relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.

The world is getting smaller and smaller, and different cultures and civilizations are coinciding ever more in the same spaces. Either we go the way of apartheid:  each keeping to their own space and cultural narrative, or we learn to share a common space and start a discussion. This project arises out of the realization that relativism is the antidote to intolerance, and the idea that a ‘relativistic space’ could be a common space: a space for dialogue and insight.

‘Relativistic Surfaces’ is about the subjective nature of experience. We often take it for granted, and that is something I want to change. I want to make us acknowledge it: that all reality is in the eye of the beholder, and that our perspective literally defines our reality.

I have designed a series of modular optical surface materials out of glass and epoxy that create a spatial feature that reminds us of and makes us acknowledge the subjective nature of experience.

Both the faceted relief of the glass tiles and the angled inclusions within the epoxy tiles function by one colour occluding as much as possible all others from different points of view. As a broad surface and in a space the difference between our focus and our peripheral vision reacts to our position in the room and forces us to locate and acknowledge that the cause for the changing colours of the space is within ourselves. This creates an existential experience of space, and of our own responsibility for the nature of that experience.





I would like to seem them in an exhibition as installation in a large space where they cover the floor to create a large surface that stretches as far as possible to create a colour horizon. The investment could be recovered by simply re-selling the tiles for a more commercial space or private spaces, but the value of creating a relativistic space where people can have an existential experience of their own responsibility for their reality is priceless.

These optical surfaces are also especially functional in spaces as a mini wall, floor, or ceiling installations for dynamic spaces where people are meeting, debating, moving, and can also serve as a means of intuitive way-finding and spatial orientation. They are designed for mass production and mass application as architectural elements within public and commercial spaces.


This project was born from the Artistic ambition to show the relativity and subjectivity of experience. I wanted to give the subjective nature of experience an objective spatial reality, to stimulate diplomacy, empathy, and understanding. No single perspective is the right perspective. No single perspective is the totality of Truth. In a zen temple garden they do this by making a constellation of, say, 10 stones, but from any given perspective only 9 are visible.

I started with those motorway billboards that show one image from one direction and then another from the other direction. I multiplied that principle of optical relativity by 6 to create a grid of hexagonal pyramids. Each face has a different colour. The lazer-cut paper prototypes worked really well and could, with additional development, be taken further as a wallpaper project in their own right.



However I thought the principle of optical relativity could work well in glass, and set about translating the concept into glass tiles. I started by creating a CAD file of a hexagonal pyramid grid, and saw the potential to extend the grid infinitely by designing tessellating glass tiles. I also designed variations in relief and colour and proved them within CAD stage with renderings and movies.


From the CAD work I first tried to produce the glass tiles through lost wax. I used the file to mill into a block of wax which I used to create the initial mould. However when it came time to steam the wax master out, it ended up simply dropping out of the mould undamaged. So I was able to make several moulds before the wax master started to break.


I used the moulds to test different types of glass and different firing schedules. I tried the blue-tinted float glass because it was cheap and readily available but it didn’t pick up much detail. I also tried Glasma glass but it didn’t seem to move enough while molten to fill the mould either, and on top of that, it was easily devitrified. The best results came from high lead content gaffer casting glass, which didn’t devitrify and took up almost all of the detail. It was however much more expensive.

Encouraged by a good result with gaffer I went back to the CAD file to change it so I could produce a silicone master instead of a wax master. Silicone would be much more hard wearing to create more casting moulds. To do this I cut directly into dry plaster batts to produce a small silicone master and a large silicone master. The batts can be used a number of times to create a number of silicone masters. By the end of the milling process I became fully competent in  setting up and designing for the milling machine.



To create good casting moulds I used ‘Crystal Cast’ brand plaster, but finding it quite expensive and more appropriate for tall high volume moulds, I started using plaster and flint. 1 parts flints to 1 parts plaster to 1 parts water seems to work great. I initially had trouble with bubbles but learned to flick the plaster onto the silicone master rather than just to pour and shake the table.


I had some trouble with some moulds that cracked while casting. I think this is down to slightly different heights in the kiln shelves and next time I will dust an additional thick layer of plaster on to the kiln shelves to create a single continuous plain. I used 200ml glass for the small tiles and 1400ml glass for the large tiles. With a little cold working I could save the tiles from the cracked moulds.



I used coloured permanent markers to make a quick coloured prototype to see how effective the principle of optical relativity worked in the tiles and was very pleased. However the pen strokes could be seen. I also experiments with glass craft paint but was disappointed by the paint pooling into the tip of the pyramid and being able to see the brush strokes.

tile3 tile5 tile6 tile7 tile2

I looked into high gloss inks which seem to be technically perfect for the tiles. However they are very expensive and would also need to be applied by pen or brush which I felt would probably pool again as well as show pen or brush strokes again.


I then moved on into the realm of decals. I designed a sheet of decals which could be lazer cut to save on the labour of cutting them out by hand. This seemed to work well but after a test firing I saw they had bubbled and burnt away during the firing. What was also disappointing was that to even fire the decals I had to place the tile fire-polished side down or the decals would fall out as they dried, and even if I put the tile on a layer of smooth plaster on the kiln shelf, the clarity of the surface was diminished after the decal firing.

Taking the colouring research further I experimented and finally developed a technique which I am unwilling to share because I think it is a quite unique solution to a unique problem. img_0693 img_0717

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