Boris Shpeizman Essay
Fall 2006 Fellow
Boris Shpeizman, a Fall, 2006 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, estimates that he is one of no more than ten people who blow glass in Israel — an ironic state of affairs when one considers that historically glass is believed to have been “born” somewhere between Syria and Lebanon. Today, fusing, slumping and flame working are not rare, but Shpeizman says that his new hot shop, Trio Vietro, shared with two partners in Tel Aviv, is unique in the country.
Shpeizman’s projects, which have been executed in various parts of the world, are often ambitious and sometimes disturbing. “I try to shock people by making beautiful things,” he says. So far, the most challenging and unusual was “Wearing Glass,” his fabrication of glass costumes partly joined by steel coils and carefully tailored to a specific model. They were shown on the original live model at the Oxo Gallery in London.
The works are “clothing” in the sense that they conform to and are supported by the body; however, they could never be worn except in a highly controlled performance setting. They are transparent, glittering, and potentially fragile. The glass extends dramatically beyond the figure where it could easily encounter something, a wall or another person, which might break it. The “clothing” is literally dangerous to the wearer and others and this danger is part of the meaning.
In one costume, a bird, apparently a rooster protrudes penis-like from the groin of the female model whom Shpeizman videotaped walking on a treadmill against a black background. The model’s face is not visible but her body is healthy, attractive perhaps in some circumstances but unremarkable —neither erotic in her movements nor physically exaggerated in some pin-up sort of way. The otherwise nude woman tightly grips the bird’s long, stretched-out neck in her right hand. Perhaps she merely supports the weight of the glass, but the gaping, shrieking pink beak inevitably suggests that she has a more deadly purpose. The bird’s wings flare upward against the model’s breasts and ribs, miming struggle. Its body passes unseen between her legs and its feet extend and are held loosely behind her buttocks in her left hand.
Other examples of this couture series are more abstract-seeming. Curving almost baroque glass is connected by flexible metal coils. The cumulative sense of “Wearing Glass” is disturbing. Does Shpeizman mean to represent an aggressive perhaps sadistic attitude on the part of the woman? Or is she the object of a kind of torture or bondage? Or perhaps, the artist illustrates that both things could be true.
In real life, as opposed to the viewer’s experience of the performance with the glass costumes, Shpeizman made sure the glass was as comfortable as possible for the wearer. He first cast her body in plaster and used this as a template for free-blowing the hot glass.
“It was just a job for her. I asked her what she thought about doing it and she says, ‘Okay. Glass is fine.’ The model was scared because the glass was very heavy. I was scared too. I asked her after she wore it if she had done something like this before. She said, ‘No.’”
Clearly designed to be worn by a woman, Shpeizman describes the objects as “very beautiful things and very bizarre. All clothes are a fetish of some kind,” he explains. “I took it to one extreme. Glass is the opposite of clothing; it is not flexible; it is cold and heavy.”
Shpeizman says that part of his “obsession is to connect glass and the body.” His interest in and understanding of the body goes beyond that of the ordinary art student who takes a few classes in life-drawing. Born in Russia, Shpeizman immigrated to Israel when his political activism became a problem. In Russia, he was a dentist. Because of his training, he says, “I feel very familiar with the body and with bones. It’s my material.” One of his sculptures encases a portion of the skull of an animal in glass threads. It is especially evocative of his understanding of the structure of the head.
He abandoned dentistry because he asked himself, “Someday when I die who will remember? It was not enough to make a lot of money. When you work in medicine, you are so limited in your decisions. You have a protocol. I decided on art and when I saw glass art it was so exciting to me that I decided to make glass.”
Though it has undeniable beauty, his glass is not for the squeamish. “I work with flesh,” he says simply. Shpeizman has made figures of animals and humans, seemingly flayed, bloodied; sometimes in tortured positions. A large standing dog is a horrific image of living death. In another work, crimson blood pulsing in contorted skeletal human remains tells of agony denied the comfort of mortality.
At CGCA, Shpeizman constructed the elements of an installation which will include a large tree, perhaps ten feet tall: “like a tree of meat but made from glass of course.” The trunk will be partly constructed of steel covered in copper. He made numerous insects to be placed on the tree, for each one coating a copper armature with hot glass and attaching petal-like wings. “I think through my hands sometimes,” he says. “It helps me to understand what I’m doing and to think more clearly about what I’m going to do.”