Message in a bottle

It would be pretty boring if we all looked at life in the same way. But with people like glass artist Jesper Jensen around, there’s not much chance of that. Because where others see tomorrow’s trash, Jesper sees a future piece of art. 

Kenneth Anderson

Everyday objects reborn

The clock strikes 6.30am as we stand bleary-eyed on a Berlin backstreet. One man takes his dog for a morning walk, while another takes himself for a morning run. But apart from that, the city is yet to stir. Just then, the quiet streets are woken from their slumbers by the sound of glass bottles clinking together. This is our alarm call. Our day has begun.

Jesper Jensen cycles towards us on his customised, three-wheeled cargo bike. Fitted to the front of the bike is a large cargo box. And in it sits a plastic crate filled with glass bottles. These are the bottles Jesper has collected on his morning ride through the city. You see, his day began long before ours did. And now, he’s on his way home. 

In Berlin, it’s not uncommon to see people collecting used bottles or cans – in fact, it’s actively encouraged. You see, these bottles and cans will then be handed in to supermarkets for recycling in exchange for money. It’s a smart scheme that everyone can benefit from. But this isn’t why Jesper Jensen does it. So, why does he get up at the crack of dawn every morning, climb aboard his trusty Christiania cycle and set off around the backstreets of Berlin? Well, Jesper is a glass artist. And the glass bottles he collects will soon be shaped and reborn in the form of cool drinking glasses, unique pitchers and elegant vases. 

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Nothing goes to waste

“I cycle around the city every morning and collect used wine bottles. Then I clean them, cut them, heat them, re-polish the sharp edges and bend them to the shape I want.” 

Jesper makes it all sound very simple. But, obviously, this is an extremely complicated process, which requires a huge amount of skill and craftsmanship. Every stage of his art is carefully considered – even when it comes to choosing which glass bottles to use. 

“I don’t just pick any bottles,” he explains. “I intentionally stay away from bottles that can be dropped off at supermarkets and then recycled. Because then I interfere with a system that already works. And I don’t want to do that.” Instead, Jesper only works with glass bottles that can’t be recycled through the normal channels. This way, he ensures nothing goes to waste. 

Home is where the art is

Jesper invites us up to his studio where we are met by his partner, Laura, and their two young daughters. The studio also doubles as the family home. And when we arrive, it’s breakfast time. Jesper and Laura’s youngest daughter is eating porridge while her older sister, Alba, is busy getting herself dressed for nursery. Her chosen look for the day? A lion, of course. Eventually, Alba wins the debate and Jesper helps her on with her lion costume. As he does so, he explains how he ended up moving from his native Denmark to Berlin a decade ago.

“I grew up in the Danish countryside. Most of the people I knew there were craftsmen. They made things with their bare hands and were proud of it. Sadly, you don’t see so much of that nowadays as everything is now mass-produced and disposable. Seeing this tradition disappear had an effect on me. This is why I now do my best to produce high-quality pieces that people can actually use, appreciate and keep for a long time.” 

“The life I lead today comes naturally to me. Only now I pick bottles instead of apples.”

Jesper Jensen

Glass Artist

Jesper fires his creativity

Jesper studied at the National School of Glass in Orrefors, Sweden – a name that will undoubtedly be familiar to many Volvo owners. He then moved to Bergen, Norway, where he lived for almost three years. While in Norway, Jesper worked his way up from the position of assistant to master glassblower. On leaving Norway, Jesper spent time travelling in Spain and Portugal. He also spent summers working as an assistant glassblower on the Danish island of Bornholm.

But even though his experiences during this time taught him a lot, Jesper was keen to get started on his own projects. So, he started looking for a new challenge that would fire his creativity. “I felt I’d reached a certain point as an apprentice where I had stopped learning. Instead of working for other people, I had a need to express myself. And in order to do that I had to work on my own projects.”

So, he moved back to Denmark and enrolled in a design degree course at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation. It was here that Jesper was invited to take part in a competition organised by the Danish Ministry of Culture.

“The competition asked for projects about sustainability and the environment. At the time, I was experimenting with hot glass using minimal resources. I submitted my project and won. This really inspired me. It was then I realised that I could do this for a living.”

Keeping the cost down

Working with glass can be a costly form of expression – both for the artist’s wallet and the environment. For example, glassblowers have to keep their glass furnaces burning at extremely high temperatures for extended periods of time. And as you can imagine, this uses up a huge amount of energy. But by choosing to work with used glass bottles that he rescues from the rubbish, Jesper manages to reduce both financial and environmental costs. 

“I don’t blow the glass,” he explains. “So, I don’t need to have ovens burning at extremely high temperatures for long periods of time. This means I use a lot less energy than more traditional glass-makers.” 

Jesper clearly loves the path his less traditional approach has taken him down. And it seems he has now found what he was missing when he was an apprentice glassblower in Bergen all those years ago.
“I love the fact that you can take an item out of the rubbish one day, and the next day you can have a high-quality product in your hands. It’s a great way of proving that everyday objects can be remade into something enduring and useful.” 

Leading a natural life

Today, Jesper’s designs can be found not only in art exhibitions, they can also be found in a number of respected German restaurants, hotels and design boutiques. One of his pieces even occupies pride of place in the “100 Classics” exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin. 

But when it comes to his art, he is not driven by a need to be seen. Instead, he is driven by a passion for the environment and the desire to lead a sustainable lifestyle. 

“I come from a family of hippies. We grew our own fruit and vegetables and focused on trying to eat locally produced food. I’m happy to lead the life I lead today. It comes naturally to me. Only today I pick bottles instead of apples.” 
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