In the studio of Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg in the hills of mid Wales, my eye is drawn by a grouping of five black-and-white figures which are about to take centre stage in their exhibition You, Me and the Rest of Us at Galleri Glas. Elegant and austere yet at the same time sensual, with curved bodies, the forms have been finished using the battuto technique – a cutting of the surface of the blown glass to add texture and enhance its opacity. The figures, which appear to challenge and respond to one another, as if acknowledging a group dynamic, mark a turning point – a more political direction – in Baldwin & Guggisberg's practice.The exhibition's title is taken from a work they made last year, which laid bare the iniquity of the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor.
It continues a conversation their last exhibition started: given the challenges of the world we live in, how do we find the right balance in society between an individual’s needs and those of the community?You, Me and the Rest of Us marks a development of, and commentary on, Baldwin & Guggisberg’s magnum opus Under an Equal Sky, a series of ten installations shown at Canterbury Cathedral in 2018, the centrepiece of which was a 20-metre boat made in part to commemorate the centenary of the World War One Armistice. That exhibition’s themes of migration, diversity and community spoke of many of the major events in mankind’s story over the past hundred years – themes the artists themselves identify with, as migrants with roots in the US, Switzerland and Italy. When they first met, Philip had a degree in history and political science from the American University in Washington, D.C., while Monica had been engaged in lampworking in Switzerland for four years. Their collaboration as artists and partners has since taken them all over the world, and led them to set up studios throughout Europe.
The opportunity to stage an exhibition in Canterbury Cathedral was, says Philip, 'thrilling' but it also presented a serious challenge. The building is England’s largest and most historic religious sanctuary, a magnificent medieval structure famed for its cavernous nave, its aisles and towers and the site of one of the most notorious events in English history, the assassination in 1170 of Thomas Becket. It is also a world heritage site. The white space of Galleri Glas comes as a relief after all that history, allowing a closer, more studied exposé of some of the ideas that Canterbury provoked.
Philip Baldwin (b. 1947) and Monica Guggisberg (b. 1955) are widely recognised as two of the elite among today’s international artists working in glass. After 40 years and dozens of international museum exhibitions, this show marks their return to Sweden, the country where their collaboration began. They met in 1979 in Småland’s Kingdom of Crystal – he was from New York, and she from Bern, Switzerland. Both had been students at the Orrefors glass school that year and it was there that their professional and personal partnership took off. The strength of Baldwin & Guggisberg’s working relationship lies not only in their differing approaches to the creative process but in their ability to harmonise their thinking through their complementary skills.