Artists under Lockdown: Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg
Master glass artists nestled in Mid Wales.
The Design Edit (TDE): How are you keeping busy in self-isolation?
Philip Baldwin (PB) & Monica Guggisberg (MG): While most of us have been hiding in our closets, we’ve had to keep going, preparing for our next exhibition in Denmark: Walking in the Void. Like everything else it got postponed, but we knew it’d be back on the moment restrictions were lifted, so the pressure’s still been there. We made the decision early on to quarantine together with our assistants Léon and Philomène. Normally they live a few miles away in Presteigne but we’re a close-knit team and we knew we would survive the experience! We live on a small-holding with sheep and donkeys and a view of the hills – the property’s rambling enough to absorb us all so it’s actually been rather fun.
TDE: Everyone’s pace of life has slowed down considerably; what is the impact of this new rhythm on your work and home life?
PB & MG: We’ve probably allowed ourselves a few more distractions, such as watching films together in the evenings and hilariously off-beat YouTube clips (such as the marvellous rendition of Leroy Anderson’s ‘The Typewriter’). It’s been a chance to put some order into things – Monica’s been organising her recipes. She doesn’t collect other peoples’ because her own (this is Philip writing here) are so darned good. But you need to catch them, otherwise they never get repeated.
We’ve still kept to a tight daily schedule in the studio. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve had a deadline dangling ahead of us. But the timing of the virus has been bizarre. The theme of our show is so interwoven with the current crisis that almost everywhere we look we’ve seen our ideas mirrored back at us. The thrust of the exhibition is essentially about our deep estrangement from nature. Earth has a history of cataclysms but right now the cataclysm is us – we’ve lost our understanding of how our lives mesh with Earth’s cycle and rhythms. So for us this time has been strangely fortuitous – it’s given us a deeper engagement with the substance of our work.
TDE: Do you have a favourite self-isolation recipe to share with us?
PB & MG: It has to be Monica’s lemon pasta. Food is very important to the rhythm of our working day. We always stop for lunch, and we all take it in turns to cook. We like to fuss over our food. It’s part of what makes us tick as a team.
Monica’s Lemon Pasta
- Pasta (500g)
- Garlic – 4 chunky cloves cut in half and flattened with knife
- Lemon – grated peel, plus juice
- Smattering of hot red pepper flakes
- Cherry tomatoes – 12, quartered
- Generous grating of parmigiano reggiano and pecorino – 50/50 or whatever you prefer
- Basil leaves – handful, torn
- Good glug of olive oil
Heat the water, add salt when it reaches the boil and throw in the pasta (thinnish spaghetti is best). Meanwhile, in a large wide pot, pop the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon peel, and, while the pasta is cooking, heat on a low heat to infuse flavours. A few minutes before the pasta’s done (al dente) – increase the heat on the sauce a little and add the tomatoes.
After draining off the pasta water (pasta still a bit too al dente) – but keeping some aside – throw the pasta into the pot and keep stirring. Stirring continually, add the cheese bit by bit (plus a little olive oil as you go). Squeeze in every last drop of lemon juice, and add the rest of the cheese. Add some of the reserved pasta water to get the feeling of a creamy-ish sauce (there’s no cream – part of its attraction!). Finally, when the pasta is al dente perfecto, add the basil leaves, a last splash of olive oil and a twist of black pepper. Buon appetito!
TDE: What is saving your sanity under lockdown?
PB & MG: For me (Monica) it’s been my donkeys, Juanita and Tilly, who love a good nuzzle and a chat. (Philip: they’re original characters, right up there with Eeyore!) And the garden – I’ve been able to obsess over the ground elder and get the veg patch going. I’ve added another fag break to my day; I used to smoke just the one but it’s become two in lockdown. While for me (Philip) it’s been an opportunity to take up a few childish things again – listening to Mary Martin as Peter Pan singing ‘Think Lovely Thoughts’ and mowing the lawn, which brings back childhood memories of me aged ten and a particular Baldwin rite of passage. I’m the youngest of four boys, and we each took it in turn at some point in our lives to take on the mantle of the official family ‘lawn-mower’!
TDE: Which online exhibition/gallery viewing room, or other internet offerings have caught your eye?
PB & MG: We’ve laughed like drains at some of the things people have been doing. One thing local to us has been the wonderfully named Lugg Blogg – a collective attempt by local creatives and friends to put some smiles on our faces while we’re in lockdown. The latest number has our eccentric English neighbour lip-synching his heart out to ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven’ dressed in tophat and tails. We defy you not to be charmed!
But mostly it’s been an opportunity to get offline and immerse ourselves in a physical book. Monica’s been reacquainting herself with her German in the form of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Tunnel and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain; and Philip’s re-read H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and worked his way through old issues of The Marine Quarterly, each one a beautiful collection of essays that allow you to go to sea without ever having to leave port.