Brett Swenson

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Artist Statement

“And it is From the view of doing Alchemy, that is, of actively responding to nature so as to make things happen without necessarily having the proven answer for why they happen, that a certain passion could on occasion combine quite well with empirical inquiry and practical desires so as to suggest new possibilities for natural knowledge.”
-Bruce T. Moran, Distilling Knowledge

A navigation through the Anthropocene reveals a default state of “unnaturalness.” It is this baseline of alteration and augmentation where intersections of nature and construct are increasingly deep and pervasive. Through my work, I attempt to locate the human elements embedded within unseen processes and events. In location specific investigations “La/vora” and “Descension” (Img 1-2, videos 1-2), I attempt to negotiate spaces that reside in forgotten, hybrid states of reclamation and decay. With minimal interference, I both acknowledge and take part in a brief moment along their entropic progression. The confusion between erosion and excavation causes these sites to become charged; existing in a flux state somewhere between natural and constructed, I am able to momentarily step inside of a space of idling potential.

The works included in the show “Potential Difference” (2014) address similar ideas through in-depth material investigations. The title is synonymous with voltage, referring to the difference in energy between two points. Responding to an open landfill site on the shores of Brooklyn, the scavenged spark plugs seen in “Strewn” (Img 4-5) lay dormant as potential energy burrowed in sand—unwanted bits from a past life reincarnated as leeching material set in plaster. Rust auras bloom and cracks emanate as their decay continues, the inexorable march of entropy made visible. In “Reignition” (Img 6, video 3), a plume of hydrogen gas rises from a single spark plug, reborn as a conductor of energy. An electric current coursing through the water results in microscopic bursts that break down the hardened shell of corrosion, momentarily reanimating the object and its associative history. I use obsidian as a vehicle for connecting the present with the primordial. As a volcanic glass, its formation is contingent upon the rapid cooling of magma. The piece “…silicovolcanoconiosis (Hypochondria)” (Img 7, video 4) provides an endoscopic view into a fiery crucible, depicting an organ-like object fueled by radiating heat and constrained by a crude steel cage that bends and distorts with each breath. Its title comes from the lung disease historically pervasive amongst miners and stoneworkers caused by the prolonged inhalation of silica. The video animates the effects of the material being submitted to extreme heat, and at chest level creates a visceral, somewhat uncomfortable connection to the body. In the “Standards of Measurement” series (Img 9-11), the Erlenmeyer flasks become deformed by the expanding obsidian they contain, fusing and contorting around each other to become a single glass body. The once linear measurements become undulating strata, tracing the mutated surfaces with organic calculation. The flask as a tool of measurement can be seen as a lens through which something is determined as fact. By distorting that tool from within and altering its context, its truth as a relative construct is made clear by its own materiality.

These investigations into material behavior have often led to attempts at framing within a context of performance. The earliest pursuits of natural knowledge were rooted in a basic, intuitive poking and prodding. Placing that notion in a contemporary context, I use tempered glass to stage material dialogues rooted in tension. “Fractured” (Img 17-19) positions ten participants simultaneously submitting tempered glass panels to a mark of heat from the torch. The flames are hypnotic, antithetical to the invisible exchange taking place. Anxiety builds and tensions rise as the moments go by, transmitted from the material to the participants and audience. One by one, the panels shatter, sometimes violently, simultaneously connecting and separating the audience with each participant. They reveal in an instant the mark of the torch and relieve a material system engineered on tension. “Execution” (video 6) frames this tension, somewhat comically, within a horror trope. In the video, I play the executioner soberly torching an invisible glass body in an attempt to destroy it. The invisible body however resists its demise with surprising persistence, continually deflecting the inflicted tension. As “wounds” develop, the separation between the two actors becomes less visually apparent, raising the question of wether they are in fact self-inflicted. The idea of occupational hazards is both physical and psychological. The work takes into account these exchanges, positioning myself as both effector and effected.




2010 BFA Rhode Island School of Design | Providence RI

2006 Beloit College | Beloit, WI

Solo Exhibitions


Potential Difference | Agnes Varis Art Center, Urban Glass, Brooklyn NY

Group Exhibitions


Perched in the Eye of a Tornado | Ying Space, Beijing, China

Art of the Fellowship | Wheaton Arts, NJ


Yearbook 2014 | Pioneerworks, Brooklyn NY

A Personal thing | 184 Project Space, Brooklyn NY


Come Together: Surviving Sandy | Brooklyn NY

Grand Point Weird | Grand Point North, Burlington VT


Body And Material | Greenpoint Film Festival, Brooklyn NY


Fractured | Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk VA

{Superposition} | Hyperopia Projects, Seattle WA

Digital Kmactus | Kmang-Kmang, Chicago IL

The Post-Glass Video Festival | Sydney College of Art, Australia

Art Here Art Now | University of Chicago/HyPa, Chicago IL


The Post-Glass Video Festival | Heller Gallery, New York NY

Senior Invitational | Woods-Gerry Gallery, Providence RI

Limits Complete | Gallery GB4, Providence RI

Trial For Ignition | Gallery GB4, Providence RI

Glass Senior Show ‘10 | Woods-Gerry Gallery, Providence RI


RISD Glass Triennial | Woods-Gerry Gallery, Providence RI

A Thin Veneer | RISD Museum of Art, Providence RI

Fragile Present | Hillel Gallery, Providence RI


Vitrified | Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, Providence RI



Ramdom’s Default ‘15: Investigation on the Extreme Land | Gagliano Del Capo, Italy


Artist in Residence | Pioneer Works, Brooklyn NY


CGCA Fellowship | Wheaton Arts, NJ

Artist Lectures and Panels


Body and Material: Panel Discussion | Greenpoint film festival, Brooklyn NY


Visiting Artist | The Ohio State University, Department of Art


Visiting Artist | Tyler School of Art, Glass Department

Press, Publication


“Imperfectionists,” Glass Quarterly spring issue #138 | Urban Glass publishing, Brooklyn NY


Interview with Clocktower Radio

“MTV RE:DEFINE” Studio Visit: Brett Swenson

“Come Together” Surviving Sandy, Year 1 Catalog | Skira Editore, Milano Publishing


“Artist as Catalyst,” Robyn Rice Essays: Brett Swenson



Exhibition catalog for “Superpostion” | Hyperopia Projects Publishing

Grants and Awards


Mark Peiser Scholarship | Penland School of Crafts


Education Scholarship | Penland School of Crafts

Glass Department Award of Excellence | Rhode Island School of Design