Creative Quarantine: Artist Alexander Rosenberg

Alexander Rosenberg

1. How are you holding up?

I’m honestly doing pretty well, all things considered.  For the first couple of months of staying home, the shift from my usual routine was welcome.  It felt like a chance to catch up on things that were always getting put off or that I just needed to be consistently in one place to do.  Now that I’ve settled into a new routine and have figured out what the stay-at-home-versions of many of the things I like to do are, my days feel relatively full and I am purposefully maintaining my health and sanity.  I’m taking yoga classes daily, over Zoom, and I do some other physical training with a good friend over facetime.  There are some other kinds of social/ wellness activities that help me feel connected to my community.  I just finished my semester of teaching this month, which was uniquely stressful, but also socially and intellectually stimulating.  Just getting to talk to a diverse group each week offered some variety.  I’m at home with my partner, a dog, and two cats so I don’t really go for long periods without interacting with others, or get super lonely.

Reliquary, or From Beneath a Piano Keyboard Used For 103 Years (2013) 4 x 4 x 8” Blown glass, waxed cotton string, Philadelphia Opera Company upright grand piano made in 1910. Modeled after a reliquary from the 17th century, this glass vessel contains the collected debris from beneath the keyboard of a piano that had been in use since it was made in 1910. © Alexander Rosenberg

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way? 

I think, in some way, artists have quantifiable advantages during this moment.  There’s a lot of things we are used to, given the nature of our work, that turn out to be pretty relevant to navigating newly limited financial, social, and infrastructural resources.  Artists are not typically well-compensated for their work, and even when we are, we always do lots of extra unpaid labor.  Even if aspects of our day jobs are suddenly different or temporarily suspended, we have meaningful work to do and we are used to figuring out how to do it in the face of substantial obstacles.  We’re used to being adaptive, using creative problem solving, and working with constraints as part of our creative process.  Many of us spend a lot of time alone already and have developed ways to cultivate the social interactions we need to stay sane, even when physically distant from other people.  I’ve done a bunch of artist residencies where you travel somewhere just to be isolated, alone with your work.  In that way, the last few months feel somewhat familiar.
It’s strange to see photos of protesters who must have thought that having the biggest guns would win them the apocalypse, when in fact, it’s qualities like creativity and curiosity that allow us to stay entertained, fulfilled and feeling useful or connected, allowing some of us to thrive, or at least sustain a baseline of normalcy.
That said, I see my day-to-day studio work shifting away from deadline-fueled triage and goal-oriented object production, and moving toward maintenance and connectivity.  I think when I’m running around, it’s easy to ignore the unsexy parts of studio work: cleaning and organizing my workspace, fixing and servicing infrequently used tools, inspecting and maintaining old work in storage, and packing up newer work that’s no longer getting any immediate attention.
I was talking about fixing things, as part of one’s studio practice,  with my students toward the end of the semester.  Recently, many of us have found ourselves with more time, but less access to specific materials and tools.  There’s some pleasure in figuring out how to keep everything humming along with what’s readily on hand.  I’ve been thinking about how wealth allows us to own things, but learning how our things work, and how to maintain them allows us to earn them…or something…
Being on a Netflix series a little more than a year ago connected me to tens of thousands of people through social media.  I always wanted to do these participatory projects that would let me work with big communities and access to this new audience has allowed me to do that.  Especially during this time, when I’m feeling isolated or physically distant, I’ve found myself using that connectivity in new projects.

Pretium Certum Constitutum (2016) Dimensions variable. Blown soda-lime glass, borosilicate glass, bronze minted currency, taxidermied English Magpie, ink-jet printed contract, cochineal cannabis ink, distilled water, steel. © Alexander Rosenberg

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I think that my work is always influenced by my immediate surroundings, community, and technological resources.  I think this period simply reinforces that I still do what I do, even without specific materials or facilities I have come to rely on to produce my work.  I will however, be thrilled to return to the glass-blowing studio.  I started some short videos as demonstrations for my classes, about working with what is available, which I think will become more fully-formed projects in the future.

The Disappointment of the Tropics (2018) Blown glass This work was made for the 8th challenge on Blown Away. © Alexander Rosenberg

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

I keep in touch with my close artist friends, and their work is always stimulating and influential.  Our video chats are usually from one studio to another studio, so even if we’re not talking about work, there’s always some awareness of what the other is working on.  Since so many lectures are being made available to the public through Zoom, I’ve probably seen more artist talks and panel discussions in the last few months than in the last year.  I’ve been really pleased to see how relevant and accessible Christine Wong Yap‘s work continues to be during the pandemic.  I had visited her studio right before the world shifted and I’ve been thinking about her projects a lot.  Dario Robleto is another artist who seeks out connections and has a sincere and hopeful practice.  I’ve been watching his Instagram feed.  I’m trying to learn from artists who are doing virtual studio visits, screenings, and other events, using the tools we already have for connectivity.  For beautiful, poetic glass objects, I’ve been looking at Peter Ivy, fantasizing about what I’m going to make when I return to the studio.

Alexander Rosenberg is a Philadelphia-based artist, educator, and writer. He earned a Master of Science in Visual Studies from MIT and a BFA in glass from Rhode Island School of Design. He is the recipient of the 2020 Proctor fellowship, the 2012 International Glass Prize, and an Awesome Foundation Grant.  He was a founding member of Hyperopia Projects (2010 – 2018), headed the glass program at University of the Arts (2010 – 2017), and was an artist member of Vox Populi Gallery (2012 – 2015). He was cast on the Netflix Series, Blown Away in 2018 and currently teaches at Salem Community College.

You can keep track of him on his website.