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This Week: Keiko Mukaide
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The Independent Culture
GLASS BREAKS. So the glass-maker Keiko Mukaide - born in Tokyo, now artist in residence at Edinburgh College of Art - must be credited with something akin to heroism for pioneering glass installations such as her Glass Landscape Garden. Its cascade of clear glass waves, moulded on beds of sand in the kiln, looks as if it is still molten.

She is a master of the kiln, which has become more popular among glass- makers than blowing, using it both for vessel forms and for installations that are virtuoso displays of the medium's versatility - and her own. Her glass can seem to fluctuate between liquid and solid, revelling in its translucence, or imitate the patina-covered opacity of a weathered rock.

Her latest installation, Secret Garden, shown here, consists of a field of up to 150 glass plants, over 5ft tall, planted in threes in ceramic pots. The pots of three can be bought individually and carried off for display in homes. The plants are lampwork - the blowtorch technique used by seaside glass sculptors - and each bulbous flower-head contains three bubbles full of water. She dreamed up a way of inserting cavities into the heads, each with a channel through which she injects water before sealing it seamlessly with molten glass. People wonder how the water got there. The plants are typical of her inventiveness.

Mukaide, 44, took up glass-making after graduating in design from Musashino Art University, Tokyo. She was taught to work a kiln in the Eighties by the British glass-maker Diana Hobson at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, USA - then graduated in ceramics and glass at the RCA in London.

Glass gardens may sound like a Zen inspiration, but Mukaide says that although she still has Japanese taste, she feels she has cut loose from Japanese culture. The Scots, she says, have their own deep appreciation of water, rock, earth and light, and the movement of the wind. Like other glass-makers from abroad, she is captivated by the quality of light in the north of Britain. "It is lucid, clear, more sensitive," she says. "I can't wait for spring."

Both she and Hobson, who now works both in America and Britain, were shortlisted for last year's Jerwood prize for glass. Perhaps Mukaide's entry, her glass garden - the only installation shortlisted - broke too many conceptual boundaries to be prize-worthy. But she is adamant that glass has potential for public installations.

She has exhibited in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Holland, Ireland and the United States. Her work has been acquired by European public galleries as well as by the prestigious Corning Museum of Glass in New York and the V&A.

Her first public installation will be craftily insinuated into the architecture of the Edinburgh Festival Centre, due to open this summer. It consists of two rows of watery-looking, bluish-green glass tiles running throughout the building. They are tougher than ceramic building tiles, Mukaide says. She moulds them in plaster in the kiln - beyond that, the process is a secret.

Other techniques of hers that push glass to its limits include fusing blown sections together with pate de verre (glass paste), casting window glass in plaster moulds with added sand to produce the rock-like effect, and what has become a signature of hers - fusing strings of glass together in moulds to form wavy vessels.

Now, when she is on the verge of making a unique reputation as a glass installation artist, is a good time to acquire her work - especially a bit of one of her installations. Her Secret Garden will be on show at the Crafts Council Shop at the V&A (0171-589 5070) from 28 April to 6 June: price pounds 185 per pot of three plants. Her pieces usually retail at between pounds 180 and pounds 3,000.

Another example of her installation work, Lucid in the Sky, inspired by Scottish sunlight, will be in a non-selling exhibition with Steven Follen titled Domain at the Fabrica Gallery, 40 Duke Street, Brighton (01273-778646 or 728339), from 17 April to 30 May. It includes a rainbow of glass fragments suspended on twine.