Alexander Rosenberg’s Recent Works: Netflix’s ‘Blown Away,’ and ‘A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary or, Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It’

Alexander Rosenberg. Image courtesy of the artist.

Alexander Rosenberg, (SMVisS ’09) ACT alumnus and artist, educator, and writer, was recently featured in the Netflix show Blown Away (2018), which depicts ten glassblowing experts competing for a $60,000 prize. The series was released internationally on July 12, 2019, and can be viewed on the streaming service.


A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary; or East State’s Architecture and How to Escape It.

(2018 – 2019) Site specific installation, performance and guidebook. Steel, glass, wood, commercially manufactured and hand-fabricated climbing gear, found archival material, guidebook, climbing performances.

Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1971, the same year that manufactured “clean climbing” gear became widely available to the public. Just a year later, the Chouinard Equipment Catalog included two articles addressing the relationship between climbing gear and environmental protection: one written by Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost, and the other by Doug Robinson, introducing the concept of clean climbing to the growing worldwide climbing community. The central ethics behind clean climbing map directly onto many of the technical restrictions artists are asked to consider when proposing Eastern State art installations.

A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary; or Eastern State’s Architecture and How to Escape It includes a series of rock-climbing performances on the exterior walls of the former prison using the type of protection written about in the ‘72 Chouinard Equipment Catalog, a printed guidebook containing photographic documentation of the project, and an installation in one of the penitentiary’s cells. The installation includes a rack of traditional climbing gear fabricated using materials and processes available in the prison before it closed its doors, and collected ephemera related to the site’s history, the geological makeup of the exterior wall, and specific escapes involving climbing. The guidebook contains information about ESP’s location and general history, and the names, locations and ratings of the climbs performed on the former prison’s wall.

A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary; or Eastern State’s Architecture and How to Escape It, brings Eastern State’s long history of preservation—both environmental and constructed—into conversation with the curiously overlapping story of modern climbing, inextricable from the site-specific “escape” narratives written into Eastern State’s stone walls. It asks corresponding questions about Eastern State and American historic monuments at large. How might we experience multiple, overlapping histories in a single site? Can we uncover these complicated, fraught histories while shaping new identities for the site today? Crossing perceived boundaries between the arts and sciences, this project aims to provoke discussion about conservation and preservation between nature and artifice in the built and “natural” worlds.