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Reimagining Broken Glass: Juli Bolaños-Durman


Juli discusses her motives and processes with Breakthrough Press


Edinburgh Based Costa-Rican artist Juli Bolaños-Durman spoke to Breakthrough Press - giving us an insight into her sustainable glass "characters".


Juli with one of her creations Photo Credit: Courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman - Portrait with Carol from 'Tales of a Universal Goddess' by Diego Almazán de Pablo in 2017


“If you look at Cuba, they’ve been under an embargo for 60 years. When you go there, it’s almost like you’ve been transported back in time. For example, their cars are all from the 60s, but they still work because the people there are savvy and have learned how look after them!”, says the beaming Juli Bolaños-Durman from her Leith studio.

The emerging Costa Rican artist goes on to describe that throughout her childhood in the Latin American haven, it was ingrained in her that when something breaks – you fix it, much like Costa Rica’s neighbour Cuba. It’s an attitude that is held by many Latin American communities, where resources aren’t as readily available as they are in first-world countries – where the waste isn’t so cleverly kept out of sight and therefore, out of mind.

Juli began her art career in Costa Rica as an arts facilitator, creating design concepts for clients, but after embarking upon a contemporary arts course in New York, Juli solidified that her passions lay in the creation of art, not solely in the conceptualisation. Soon after her time in New York, she realised her interest in utilising glass as an artistic material – being particularly drawn to the idea that you can fix it, even if it’s broken. After discovering the rather specific ‘Fine Arts of Glass’ master’s course in Edinburgh, Juli relocated to Scotland and has remained in her Leith studio since graduating.

Juli with Nicola Sturgeon with on of her creations as part of a curation of Scottish design in Scottish Parliament Photo Credit: Courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman - by Tim Christie


Whilst Juli has always been of the waste not, want not mentality, throughout her studies in both New York and Edinburgh, she became aware of how different the attitudes to waste are in first-world countries. She began to question the consumerist values that saturate those societies with seemingly abundant resources. Juli described that in Latin America, many items have to be imported making them far more costly than in places like the UK, which makes them more valuable to the consumer. “In many first-world countries, the solution is to go out and buy something new, when the only problem with the item may be a chip or a scratch. It’s so important to consider the labour and energy that has been, and will be, invested into these items.”, she solemnly asserts.

Juli’s consciousness of how much waste humans produce laid her ethical foundations as an artist. Whilst honing her craft techniques at the Edinburgh College of Art, she gravitated toward using waste materials, propelled by the notion that what she creates doesn’t just ‘go away’ if no one wants it - truly embodying the phrase ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. It was during this time she realised her love of imagining a new story for something that others may think of as ‘waste’: injecting new life into something that is discarded. “As an artist, I don’t want to define myself as a consumerist. I don’t want to always take and take and take. I try to stay present and acknowledge everything that is around me - whether it is a beer bottle, a cardboard box or even just what’s in the recycling bin. It can be hard to be persistently resourceful, but that is when I push myself as a designer. You can’t source raw material left, right and centre. In the current climate crisis, you must be creative – we must look for the beauty in our localities.”


Wild Flowers Collection by Juli Bolaños-Durman Collaboration x Jorum Studio. Photography: Shannon Tofts. Edinburgh, 2019


Whilst this can present challenges, like being unable to plan projects in advance, Juli notes that it also allows for a completely unique process each time. She is forced to interact with the raw material directly. She first assesses the material she has gathered – likening herself to a magpie in this regard, “collecting all the little treasures no one else wants”. She then tries to build them upon each other, comparing the process to “playing with legos”. She then melds the pieces together, after mending any blemishes.

Juli is greatly guided by her formative socialisation to ‘fix’ things, but her childhood in the tropical Costa-Rica also leads her sense of what her creation should be. “I intuitively appropriate from my memories and my heritage, leaning on the lushness of nature, the smells, even the sassiness of the culture to create the finished piece. It’s absorbed by the materials, creating a story and becoming a little character.”


‘Spirited Waste’ Series (2022) Juli Bolaños-Durman in Collaboration x Aivaras. Photography: Aivaras Simonis. Edinburgh, 2022


Discussing her new collection Spirited Waste, which is displayed by The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, she credits this ‘play’ methodology as being pivotal in making the “weird and wonderful” characters that make up the collection.

Juli also points out that she was at first surprised that The Scottish Gallery wanted to host this non-traditional, somewhat grotesque display of waste, due to the gallery’s traditional nature. Yet, the juxtaposition between the landscapes that line the walls of the gallery and Juli’s odd character constructions conveys her message all too well. Juli’s artwork is not created to be pretty and sell – it means to disturb the system and raise questions.

The point of Juli’s creations are to show that if you shift the perception of something, it becomes something new. “The hope is that we can begin to eradicate the idea that when you don’t want something anymore, you can just throw it away. Because there is no ‘away’. It just occupies a different space.”
“I want to be a good ancestor. I don’t want to just create because I can. There’s an intrinsic responsibility to respect the generations that will come next. Even looking toward anthropological studies – I’m fascinated by how people would have perceived the world and their stories, even how they solved problems and how we got to where we are because of them. What would they find from us? What kind of ancestors would they think we are? Is it just going to be plastic and crap? No – I refuse.”


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