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The complexity – and magic – of glass

Let’s talk about glass. As in the everyday material used to make windows, visual displays, mirrors, high-rises, lenses, fiber-optic cables, coke bottles, and so on. First, a word of warning: Attempts to describe glass can become a challenge pretty quickly. Give it a try and quickly you might fight yourself sounding like a magician who has seen too many kung fu movies—like some caricatured rhetorical hybrid of Yoda, David Blaine, and a bag of fortune cookies.

For the scribally inclined, glass constitutes some pretty heavy lifting. Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, St. Paul— all these big hitters took on the poetic complexity of that crazy, light refracting, non-crystalline, amorphous-solid-of-frozen-super-cooled-liquid stuff known as glass. The rest of us should proceed with a degree of caution and humility. Glass is like love: Magical, profound, beautiful, baffling, transformative, and completely irrational. Any attempt to frame all that nonsensical wonder in words requires precarious a tightrope walk between sublime profundity and insipid inanity.

Glass is what one might call an “impossible object.” Impossible objects possess meaning that defies explanation. Humor is an impossible object: We know when we find a joke funny but it’s impossible to explain how or why we find a joke funny. If a joke were simply meaningless, simply incomprehensible, it would not make us laugh: We wouldn’t “get it.” However, we somehow understand jokes that make us laugh: We “get” the joke, even if we can’t fully explain what it is we that “get.”

Alternately put, understanding of humor, or any other impossible object, takes place on an emotional level. An impossible object moves us emotionally in ways that somehow exceed all description. A comedian cannot teach an audience why a joke is funny. Explanations don’t work for jokes.

Like humor, glass defies explanation. We don’t ever fully comprehend glass. However, if we keep our eyes open, we may have an experience of glass that moves us, exposes us to life in ways we can’t fully explain.

Even scientists have difficulty explaining glass. On a molecular level, glass defies traditional categories of matter. Is glass a solid or a liquid? Don’t jump to any conclusions. The identification of glass as either a solid or liquid remains an open debate. Glass has the qualities of both a solid and liquid, and yet does not fully fit the definition of either state of matter. Glass is a “solid-liquid,” and yet glass is neither a solid nor a liquid.

The difficulty—and wonder—of glass lies in the fact that it exists between categories. Even on a practical level, glass resists labels. At this moment, you’re reading these words through glass you can’t see. And yet, remove the glass surface of your screen, and the images in the display dissolve. At the computer, we at once look at and through glass. The transparency of glass renders it both present and absent: There and not.

Because glass exists between categories, glass also forces us to place these categories themselves into question. At once solid and liquid, from a certain perspective, one could say glass has an identity problem: If only glass could simply settle on being a either a solid or liquid. Of course, the latter idea is absurd. The world has no obligation to fit into the frames through which we view it. And glass has no obligation to fit into the labels we employ to identify states of matter.

The duality of glass – and its refusal to be labeled – is in itself part of its magic. Clarus Glassboards customers often remark that their ideas take on new meaning, new form when presented on glass as opposed to traditional writing surfaces. In resisting our established explanations of the world, glass reveals, as through a window, our obligation to see the world in new ways. And with the architectural installation of glass writing surfaces in our collaborative spaces, so too will we find unique ways to communicate, collaborate, inspire and bring new meaning to our work.