GLASS LIVES INTERVIEW:
Anna Mlasowsky

Anna Mlasowsky in conversation with North Lands Creative Director Karen Phillips. Anna shares her experiences as a glass artist and educator and discusses the impact of the pandemic on her creative practice.

PROJECT ACTIVITY - Visiting artist workshop

PARTNER - berlin glas

YEAR - 2019

1. When did you first start working with glass, and how has your making process and work evolved over time?

I started working in glass in 2006 at Engelsholm Højskole in Denmark. Followed by a year as an intern at the Glashütte Gernheim in Germany, after which I started my BA in Glass at the Royal Danish Academy on Bornholm. In the beginning I only worked in the hot shop and wanted to become a studio assistant, really not considering my own work. The more I learned though the more I had my own ideas and started making work. In the beginning they were all vessels but becoming increasingly less useable. Then in 2008 I went to Pilchuck and Corning and got exposed to the work being made in the US after which my own art completely changed. I started working really experimental, looking closely at the materials abilities and properties. The projects that originated from that earned me quite a bit of success in the field. In recent years I have started yet again changing my work and work now a lot with video, performance and glass, which I am quite excited about. These days, research into a subject takes up a lot of the process.  

2. Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be an artist?

I didn’t know about glass until the summer of 2005, when I got to watch glass makers in a small village in Northern Norway on the Lofoten Islands. I was spending a year in Norway after finishing Highschool doing a European Volunteer Service, when I went on vacation where I discovered glass. This encounter derailed the vacation a bit as I kept going back to that studio to watch the glass makers work. After that I contacted glass studios to see if I could get an internship and was told that I needed to take some classes first. They gave me the name to a school called Engelsholm Højskole in Denmark where I could take classes. Before being able to enroll in the program I had to come up with the tuition and took work doing the Champagne harvest in France, worked at a cigarette factory in Germany and as a nude model for drawing classes.

Photo Credit: Agueda Pacheco Flores, Courtesy of Crosscut Seattle, 
Anna Mlasowsky in Das Schaufenster Gallery with the work of Connor Walden

Anna Mlasowsky in her studio working on “ Chorus of One”

Chorus of One is a wearable sound object, producing multiple tones when activated by a single performer. The wearable was created after the facets of a found rock. Each scale of the cloak is a face of the rock. Performed by Alethea Alexander Video by Derek Klein Object and Editing by Anna Mlasowsky

3. Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

There is not one process of how I make my work. I usually start with an idea or a visual, sometimes tied to a specific material property I observed. The I start looking on how to manifest the idea and that happens via all available glass making processes. The hot shop, the kilns, the cold shop and mold making as well as flameworking are all areas that I incorporate. I love collaborative work and like to hire professionals like dancers, fabricators, gaffers and videographers when I can afford them. I have a lot of ideas and wish I could always just experiment and then leave the execution to someone else, because I really like to play. The hot shop tends to be the place in which I generate ideas and responses quickest and it is a very fruitful place for me. Since 2011 research is becoming a larger and larger part of my practice and some projects take years to complete. Especially the video work, when I go through Museums and Archives to generate background knowledge and then go location scouting for filming followed by making the objects and then shooting and editing. I must admit that most of my days are spend administrating myself and if I could give away one thing, it is things like I am doing right now. Writing about myself.

4. 2020 has been a significant year, quite remarkably you have the Das Schaufenster 24/7 window gallery, can you tell us how this came about?

Das Schaufenster was created in response to the closures of exhibition spaces and the postponements and cancelations of opportunities for artists. When every place closed its doors and boarded over in the spring, I did the opposite. I opened up the store front windows of the side of the building I live and work in which my landlord had used for storage. I wanted to provide a possibility in my neighborhood for people to experience art, 3d and in person safely, while providing artists with the opportunities needed to sustain a career. As an Immigrant I noticed the need to maintain a schedule particularly among other immigrant artists whose visas are directly tied to their work. Some of the exhibitions are going to immigrant artists, some exhibitions are going to recent graduates that had their MFA shows canceled, some exhibitions are going to artists with a community practice as they worked hard for everyone else this year without time for their own practice and I am also partnering with other institutions that couldn’t continue their programming because they had to close and are using this space now. The exhibitions can be viewed 24/7 from the sidewalk. We don’t have walk in access and host our monthly artist talks online. Although the space is a direct response to the needs of this year, I don’t see it as a temporary endeavor but hope to create a lasting programming.

5. Has this influenced or seen a new focus in your own work or the way it is presented?

No, it has not influenced my own work. I certainly have more work now selecting and communicating with the artists and installing the exhibitions as well as the monthly artist talks. That’s all unpaid labor and I do it because it feels right, but it is separate from my own artwork. What the space has allowed me is a sense of agency. I am no longer just being part of the receiving opportunities group, but I am now creating opportunities and in that I am able to create opportunities that I think offer the support and care I often wish to see elsewhere. Unfortunately, I cannot yet offer the financial support I wish to give the artists, but I am making a point to pay a modest exhibition fee.

6. Please tell us how you found your time teaching at Berlin Glas during the Visiting Artists workshop ‘Hot, Warm, Cold – Potentials of Furnace and Kiln Forming Combined’?

My relationship with Berlin Glas reaches back to its very beginning and I am always excited to be invited back by Nadania Idriss. As someone that has left Germany because I didn’t see a lot of opportunity there, I am very excited about what Berlin Glas is doing for Glass in Germany. The course I taught in November 2019 was a class I wanted to teach for a long time. The reasons why I haven’t taught it before, is that most studios can’t accommodate classes that use both the hot shop and the kiln shop, as mostly these are separate classes. I am often frustrated with how separate the kiln techniques are from the hot techniques, when there is so much possibility to combine them. In the class we used found glass and made “raw” materials in the hot shop, then we took them to the cold shop and into the kilns where we explored fusing, slumping, sagging and some active hot manipulation. Within three days of this weeklong class, students that had no hot shop experience and some no glass experience were pulling stringers, making solid sculpted objects and even blowing simple bubbles. It was an incredible group of all ladies that got along really well, and we mostly worked in teams. We had a lot of fun and in the end shared the work we made collectively via a lottery system.

‘Hot, Warm, Cold – Potentials of Furnace and Kiln Forming Combined’ Anna Mlasowsky teaching at Berlin Glas, November 2019

‘Hot, Warm, Cold – Potentials of Furnace and Kiln Forming Combined’
Anna Mlasowsky with students at the Rietveld Academy in January 2020.

Anna Mlasowsky with students in Amsterdam, writing “ I Did, Did I?” with Reflective Glass Roads Beads in a public bicycle underpass at night. 

7. What do you think you offer to teaching programs?

As a constant nomad I have experienced different cultures, value structures and studio practices. Because of that, I am very interested in everyone discovering what’s right for them, what works and what they enjoy. I am less concerned with technique and mastery but rather with play, experimentation, frustration and deconstruction of perceived right and wrong in the studio process. I think the worst that happened to glass is that we perceive a crack as something negative, when it holds so much beauty and potential. I encourage my students to find what’s right for them and I hope then, that this studio practice extends into their lives in a way that they can re-center their ideas of moral, value, truth and expectation.


Of course, I am known for creating experimental work and have come up with new glass working techniques, which is why I get invited by institutions to teach, but really without my studio approach that I described here, none of that work could happen

8. How do you benefit from your time teaching students?

I get great pleasure out of teaching; I enjoy watching curiosity unfold. I love the stunned expressions when something new is discovered and surprises happen. So there is a good amount of gratification coming from sharing these moments of studio joy. Besides that though, I give assignments to students for ideas I have for my own work and seeing how they solve the question gives me many possible answers and contributes to my learning. For example when I co taught a workshop with Matthew Szosz at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in January 2020, I had students test out the stringer harnesses and durability for the future performance of 4 Feet Apart. We also did some large-scale public space writing with reflective glass beads in an underpass in the city that said “I did, did I? “, a project I was hoping to do this year in NY, but that was canceled by the pandemic.

9. What advice would you give artists considering applying for opportunities for the ISGNE project?

Be true to yourself, present your ideas and vision in a concise way that addresses concept, context, requirements and outcome of your work. What has proven to be the most important tool for me when applying for anything is to be able to look at my writing and the way I present my work as if I know nothing about myself and have never seen it. This helps to write up proposals and applications that can easily be understood.


In addition to that, be daring, propose to do something that expands your work. Don’t be afraid that you have to do something you know exactly what the outcome will be.  This might be my best advice.

10. How have you been during the months of quarantine? How is the artist community in the USA dealing with this unsettling situation?

Large parts of the US have been in quarantine since late March, this is now in October nearing the end of seven months. Compared to Europe, we have mostly not been able to go back to normal. Here tough it is different in every state and I want to make sure to say that my experience is not a universal US experience necessarily. The artists that have a teaching practice have struggled with a different set of challenges, from online classes and zoom to their student’s mental health. The artists that are usually do commission work and fabricate for others have been mostly without work for the year. Artists that have their own studio, have had the least interruption of making but have had challenges in how to market their work.

 

Everyone is dealing with this situation individually; some new initiatives have been able to gain momentum like Geex Glass and Crafting the Future. 


It has been very challenging for me personally, because all my new project, exhibitions and teaching were canceled, and I have no way to make an income. I have spent a good amount of time applying for emergency art funding and waiting. Most of my work is made in public access studios and during residencies, since the studios in WA state are still closed, I haven’t been really able to make new work and I am also very mindful with my finances. Right now, I prefer to hold on to my money than to spend it on materials because we are hitting the third large wave of infections with more than 80.000 new cases reported in a single day and I don’t know what is yet to come. It hasn’t been a year of productivity. It has also not been a year of rest, despite being home, it’s been just really stressful. The loss of income connected to the loss of ability to create work has shown me how much the nature of my work is dependent on external approval and offers of engagement, rather than gallery sales and how fragile the system that makes my work possible is.

Das Schaufenster, created by Anna, is an exhibition space in Seattle, born in response to the closures & postponements of opportunities due to Covid19.
Showing the current exhibition "Re-Rooted/ Re-Routed” by Iranian-American artist Shiva Aliabadi.

Anna Mlasowsky putting the finishing touches on Das Schaufenster in July 2020.

11. It's great to see glass artists' work being exhibited abroad; can you tell us about your recent/upcoming exhibitions or projects?

Well, considering that we are in the middle of a pandemic, with most Galleries and Museums, not being fully operational, most upcoming projects seem like fortunetelling. But I currently have a solo exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum titled “Never Odd or Even”, which will be on view until January 17th, where I am showing my performance, video and glass work. New objects are for sale at Vetri Gallery in Seattle and will be featured at the virtual SOFA Chicago in November. In February 2021 I am supposed to start my four-month fellowship at the Science History Museum in Philadelphia, where I will be researching the socio-ecologic impact of rare earth mining. In the fall of 2021, I am supposed to be the visiting professor for the fall semester at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy in Wroclaw. Over the summer I will teach at the Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass and the Pilchuck Glass School, if the world starts turning round again.

12. How would you define contemporary glass in the USA compared to Europe?

Contemporary glass in the US and Europe is vastly different, rooted in the difference in its history. While studio glass first emerged in the US in the 1960’s and with it the manufacturers for the art glass market, Europe has had a glass making tradition for a very long time. Because of that we have two very different markets, with very different opportunities. In the US contemporary glass art is less design oriented and concept and context play an increasing role in the artist’s work. The glass art scene is right now under a lot of scrutiny in relationship to its lack of diversity and equity and is trying to improve its efforts in that direction. Europe isn’t thinking of its colonial past and how that impacts our opportunities. This year I’v seen a number of efforts in Europe to highlight the work of female artists, while in the US the work of Indigenous artists and artists of colour has been brought into focus. Europe as well, is struggling with preserving tradition while moving away from glassmaking being tied to production. I perceive Europe as more craft oriented than the US, not using the word craft here as a negative description. I think some of that is based on glass being taught in the US in University programs and in Europe still a lot in trade schools. That produces different kinds of artists. The programs and artists that come out of EU University programs are just as conceptual as the US ones, but often don’t have the technical skill level, as teaching looks very different there. But I don’t think it’s something we should compare; Europe and the US are unique places.

13. What are your favourite European artists, studios and/ or places?

I am sure I don’t know a lot of really amazing places and artists, but the places I really think are producing interesting programming are S12 in Norway, The Factory Museum in Boda, Sweden, Berlin Glas in Germany and especially the Swedish based feminist BOOM glass collective.

14. How important is it to you to be making work internationally and with other European organisations and artists?

It is very important, and I think the exchange that takes place when different knowledge comes together is enriching for everyone involved. An example is the EU project hosted by Bildwerk Frauenau, the Royal Danish Academy on Bornholm and their partners in the Czech Republic and Austria. I was a mentor for this program last year in which 10 young makers get a scholarship to create new projects, get professional development training and an internship, concluded with a traveling exhibition at the end of the six-month program. The group I co-mentored came together from the Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany. As you could be either a resident or citizen, we had a Hungarian Dane, a Brazilian Czech, a Swiss Germany and a Polish Czech as well as an Azerbaijanian Czech. The international participants did bring very different experiences and knowledge to the table and besides sharing this knowledge with each other also fostered patience and understanding to deal with each other’s differences.  Whenever different skills come together around a table, everyone walks away gaining something, even if it’s just the understanding that there is much, we don’t know and that we are who we are because of where we are. Continuing to work in Europe as well helps me not to lose entirely my connection to what I still consider home.

16. The contemporary glass world is built on mobility: artists and their projects are not subjected to national borders, they travel and work in different countries, and their works are exhibited globally. How do you think the international glass scene will change after this crisis?

First of all, I can’t foretell the future, but I have hopes for the future. One of these hopes being that the pause we all had to take has gotten us to think of our privileges and shortcomings and how we might want to change, resuming business after the crisis. 

Although it is true that artists and artworks are not necessarily subjected to national borders, they still make working and exhibiting for some artists easier than for others. A great example is the Iranian born in Italy living artist Saman Kalantari’s who’s experiences of being denied a visa to travel and work in the US is directly impacting his future, achievements and career path in glass by borders and governments. A similar disadvantage in mobility exists for everyone that doesn’t speak English well. Growing up in East Germany I learned Russian and English, because I entered school after the wall fell. Anyone in their 40’s or above from East Germany has a distinct disadvantage in the competition word of glass art, as they didn’t learn English. I see the same still being true for many other countries and experienced it for example in Japan, where I met a lot of amazing artists that couldn’t compete internationally. So our opportunities depend greatly on where we are in the world. To be real, only if you live in a country where you have access to social media and the internet and if you speak English well enough to be competitive can you apply for residencies and exhibitions internationally. This is not just a problem particular to glass, but it is for sure not creating equal opportunities. In the future I hope that we can become more inclusive, to see more art coming from regions we don’t see much of right now like India, Africa, South America, Turkey etc. I hope we can find better ways to circumvent the power dynamics. The shift of how we can present and make work during the pandemic have helped soften the structures we are used to, but I hope that in the future, this can be expanded upon. This honestly is such a big question that it feels impossible to answer. I am thinking of hopes of things to shift after the crisis like the hot shop centeredness of glass, the inexistence of programs and awards for the middle-aged glass artists ( what happens after you have been emerging?), programs that are family friendly, competitions that don’t favour the artists in wealthy countries that can pay for their shipping costs, the admission that glass is a really expensive medium and that if we want it to be accessible and inclusive to minorities and disadvantaged citizens we need to work on programs that break down the financial gap, an understanding that although we have a globalised art market we don’t have an equal global economy and an application fee reasonable in one country will make it impossible for someone in another country to apply, a new collector base that is interested in art not in colour, the end of “I give opportunities to my friends because I like them”, the start of critical writing in glass.….I hope that the international glass scene is using this time right now to take a hard look at where we collectively want to be in 10-20 years from now. I hope that after the crisis we all have new energy to be part of making changes long overdue in glass, each one of us in our own country, in our own ways fulfilling the needs of that particular place.  

 

Anna Mlasowsky at Eugeniusz Geppert Academy working on a new project in December 2019, that was paused by the pandemic until 2021. 

"Sometimes we have to break what connects us in order to find together." Still taken "4ft Apart" a 20 minute performance, by Lilia Ossiek and Alba Maria Thomas Alvarez, Camera: Sebastian Knorr and Bernhard Kübel, recorded at Villa Wiegman e.V. Dresden, Object and Editing by Anna Mlasowsky.

Filming "4ft Apart" a 20 minute performance, by Lilia Ossiek and Alba Maria Thomas Alvarez, Camera: Sebastian Knorr and Bernhard Kübel, recorded at Villa Wiegman e.V. Dresden, Object and Editing by Anna Mlasowsky.

"△▽ a 4 hour durational performance by Ellen ( Jing) Xu and Anna Mlasowsky at Velocity Dance Center, Seattle in 2016. Exploring the distortion of immigrant identities in new cultures and contexts.

ARTIST BIO
Anna Mlasowsky

Born in 1984 in East Germany, Anna Mlasowsky holds a BA in Glass from the Royal Danish Academy and an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Washington. Anna received an Artist Trust Fellowship in 2017, was one of the Emerging Voices in Craft Shortlist Award recipients and was awarded an Emerging Artist residency at Centrum Foundation. Anna has been included in Museum collections of The Corning Museum of Glass, The Toyama City Museum and the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Art and Design, The European Museum for Contemporary Glass, The Northwest Museum of Art, The Bellevue Arts Museum and the Tacoma Museum of Glass and the Stockholm Architecture Museum. 

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