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Of All Artists, Musicians Reach People Easiest. Story of the George Enescu Competition Trophies Creator – Iulia Nastase, Glass Artist

Elena Blanaru

The trophies of the George Enescu Competition are bespoke, limited-edition objets d’art, made of hand-blown and engraved glass, created by artist Iulia Nastase.

They start as glass interpretations of a violin and then grow into combinations of themes inspired by cello and piano, for the Competition sections dedicated to the latter two instruments. Our collaboration with Iulia began in 2013. That year, she took part in the Creative Bucharest artistic project with “Violin Rhythms,” an installation comprising 40 glass violins. The following year, Iulia created the George Enescu Competition trophies for the first time. She was then at the beginning of her artistic journey, having just graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“My undergraduate thesis was on the topic of Sound Manifestation in the Visual and I created an installation of 40 glass violins, with various shapes and textures. At that time, the Enescu Festival’s edition had a key visual depicting a glass violin and I thought it could be interesting to do something together. So I wrote them. See, as an artist, I have to play both parts – to create my work and then find a place in the world for it. The Festival organizers were open to my ideas. As part of the Creative Bucharest project, I displayed some of the violins in the University Square. Then they gave me the assignment of creating the trophies for the 2014 Enescu Competition. This was my very first project in the world,” Iulia says.

That was the beginning of our beautiful collaboration with Iulia. She created the trophies for the following edition as well, in 2016. The trophies are all unique creations. Each time, the artist makes nine distinctive trophies for the three prizes in the three instrument sections of the Enescu Competition (violin, cello, and piano), inspired by each edition’s tagline.

About Glass and Artists

“The fascination for glass stems from the way it is processed. Working with fire keeps you anchored; you don’t think about the email you haven’t sent or the trash you haven’t taken out; it forces you to be present and aware. You have to be there. It’s a lot like active meditation.”

The year 2017 brought on a new challenge, one the Iulia had been pondering for some time. She had dreamt of creating a full-size orchestra, where sound and glass would interact to provide unique experiences.

The “Glass Orchestra” stood to be experienced that year in front of the Romanian Athenaeum, then in front of the Grand Palace Hall, in Bucharest. It was an orchestra of 30+ glass instruments, positioned exactly as they would be on stage, ready to start playing. In front of the instruments, there was a podium, where people could step up and try out the conductor’s baton. Their motions were read by the installation’s Kinect device and made the instruments play. The creation of this art installation was supported entirely through private funding.

It was a project on which I worked as an artist should. My proposal for a glass orchestra was accepted, I discussed it with the sponsors, I started working, and they saw the installation at the end when it was displayed. I enjoyed total freedom and their total trust,” Iulia recalls.

“The Enescu Festival has been a great opportunity for me and I tell this to everyone who wants to listen, each time I have the occasion – that these things can indeed happen. Even to a student who has just barely graduated, as it was in my case. I spent two years in India and there I once met an elderly gentleman who asked me what I did for a living, what was my profession. I told him I was a visual artist and then he thanked me. I was very surprised, I asked why he was thanking me, and he answered that I am someone who, through their work, brings a bit of beauty into this world. He also said that there are three categories of people: those who help us live, such as doctors, those who provide for us to live, such as farmers, and then those who help us find what to live for. This is where we artists belong.

We give people reasons to enjoy life when they watch a movie, look at an artwork, or listen to music. And musicians have a special gift, in my opinion, particularly in today’s world. Unfortunately, we live in a world that constantly bombards us with messages and we come to develop mechanisms to help us filter out the excess of visual information. For me, as a glass artist, it’s more difficult to get you to see my work. But music is something else. We all resonate with music, you resonate with a sad piece, or an upbeat piece sparks something in you.

Musicians reach people faster. So I’ve created the trophies for the Enescu Competition out of admiration for their work. I also feel a hint of envy; I admit it because musicians can stir up something in listeners from all walks of life. You don’t necessarily have to go to a performance venue or a gallery to come across their art. The beauty they create is for everyone. And this Festival, I believe, gives beauty back its value.”

Authenticity and Artistic Expression

Freshness and authenticity – this is what Iulia contributes to the Enescu Competition.

The authenticity – you can feel it in her passion for glass and violins. The freshness – you can sense in the way she creates each trophy. This way, we can offer winners more than mere objects; we can offer them true works of art. It’s the way we, at the George Enescu Festival and Competition, support the dialogue between arts and promote Romanian artists from domains other than music,” says Oana Marinescu, Communication Director of the George Enescu Festival.

Now, in 2021, Iulia’s works for the Enescu Competition finals are nine glass sheets shaped like violins, cast each into their mold and then manually polished and hand-engraved by Iulia. This type of work has taught her an important lesson, applicable not only to the arts – how to know when to stop. She says it’s extremely important for an artist to know when to say “done, everything is complete.” “It’s one of those things you have a hard time learning, i.e., knowing when to stop. I’ve ruined many works by not stopping at the right time, when I just had to add a final touch, to change something at the last second.”

Looking for Beauty. Iulia Settled on Glass after Searching for a Way to Express Beauty

Her life journey took her first to the Faculty of Philosophy, from which she dropped after a year. She then turned to the Faculty of Fine Arts, the Sculpture section. But she found she didn’t have the patience to work for months on end on a stone sculpture, for example, so she switched to the Glass section of the Faculty.  “With Glass, you can see things happening, you interact a lot with your material, which will sometimes listen to you and at other times won’t. It can even take its revenge when you don’t handle it correctly. You are working with a material that constantly changes its density with temperature. You need to know when to move forward and when to wait. If you’re not patient, the glass will tax you and break. It forces you to be calm. And it teaches you a further lesson – the non-attachment. Glass objects break frequently, so you can’t get upset every time it happens. You learn in turn to start over, to shortcut the moment of wrath.” Iulia has come to know herself better thanks to glass, to recognize her moods. She says she never works in her workshop when she’s upset or angry, because she imparts her mood onto the creation, and glass doesn’t admit fluctuations or sudden changes during its handling.

“It happened many times that I would work and coerce the glass, I’d cover tiny cracks, but glass is unforgiving, it goes on working by itself. The next day, I’d come to the workshop to find the piece shattered. Inside it, the cracks had continued to progress and the work did not hold.”

In the Glass Artists’ Garden. The gift Iulia gives to those who want to enter the world of glass: patience, the power to silence all the voices in your mind

What she learned during her studies, Iulia wants to teach others in her turn. So for years now, she has been organizing creative workshops for adults. She wants to share with them the lessons glass has taught her. “You won’t become a glass artist after four sessions of this course. But I try to teach people how to show themselves a little patience, to turn off that voice in their head, to silence it. This technique suits the modern person, surrounded as s/he is by ceaseless noise. When a fire starts, your body goes into alert mode; after all, it is fire – something you are afraid of in the first place, and you are more careful in its vicinity. Then glass comes along, which is melting and forces you to focus. What I offer people is two hours to stop thinking about whatever rolls on in their background.”

The workshops take place at the Glass Artists’ Garden, the beautiful garden of an old house in the old center of Bucharest. For 12 years Iulia has been constantly transforming it. Slowly, it has become her refuge, the place where she can be outdoors, in the open air. It’s brimming with glassworks and in one corner are the glassmaking ovens. Iulia plans to use this space in the future to show people, grown-ups and children alike, how beautiful this material – glass – is. She plans to invite them to the Glass Artists’ Garden with a couple of glass objects they no longer need, jars or bottles, which they can melt in the special ovens, and then she can help them create new objects. She wants to demonstrate how important recycling is, but also what this process means.

Iulia confesses that, during her studies, she missed a place where she could come and create. “Glass is dependent on technology and there aren’t many places you can go, there are no workshops anymore, no factories. That’s why my undergraduate studies took seven years to accomplish instead of three. I extended my academic years several times, to be able to get access to the latest glassworking technology the Faculty could offer. I dream of turning this garden into what the Glassblowers’ Yard in the Old Town used to be – a bohemian place, where you can walk at your own pace and see glass being created before your very eyes.”

She says glass has taught her yet another important lesson – that of solving conflicts with heat and warmth. “If there are tensions in the glass while you are working, this can be solved by applying heat and it’s so very satisfying to see how they disappear and how that crack that was endangering your work vanishes. You start thinking that you managed to save the situation with patience and warmth. It’s the same in life, this is one of the things I share with people who come here. That’s why I always say they don’t learn only techniques to work with glass but leave instead more peaceful at heart; they see things more clearly, perhaps from a fresh perspective.”

She can’t see herself doing anything else.

 “You know how people ask what you’d do if you won the lottery. My answer is the same every time – I’d be a glass artist.”