Jens Gussek Essay
Fall 2005 Resident
Many scientists believe that water is essential for the development of life in any form. That’s why evidence of water on the planet Mars merits headlines. Unquestionably, water is necessary to sustain life on earth.
In his successful application for a Fall 2005 Resident Fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America at Wheaton Village, Jens Gussek, a sculptor born in East Germany, perhaps not entirely facetiously mentioned that he’d heard Wheaton Village was “not so far from the ocean.” Certainly water is a subtly shaded and pervasive metaphor for this artist.
Gussek calls his most recent body of work “The Ocean Pieces” and writes, “The ocean is always a target of my yearning. A place where you feel hope and freedom, where you see yourself smaller, maybe less important, more abstract, more clear.” In his application, Gussek alluded to the common representation of life as an ocean journey, though for him, the trip does not have a fixed or pre-determined goal beyond “looking for the shore.”
Like so many sculptors working in glass today, Gussek is not bound by an allegiance to any particular technique, or even to glass unless it’s the appropriate medium for the expression of his ideas. He has cast figures of lead and often uses metal, wood, slate and paint to realize his ideas. In fact, Gussek began his study of art in the field of weaving. Then he switched to painting, sculpture, and glass, worked as a designer in a glass company before returning to school at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle. It was before reunification and the school only accepted two students a year. “While you were there, your life was radiant,” he recalls. “The strange thing about the communist system is that they were really interested in art but, at the same time, the security system was observing you. If you did painting and sculpture, you should work with realism. With craft [like glass], it was more free because [craft] couldn’t be ‘political.’” Politics apparently inhabited some materials more than others; however, Gussek notes, “for teachers it was clear that we should first do art. The thinking was, ‘Have an idea, make a drawing; Then find the right material.”
Some aspects of art training changed following reunification. Now that he is a teacher at the school he attended in Halle, Gussek meditates on the descent of art education through the Bauhaus teachers to the present day and wonders how much has been lost. He believes that students can “learn everything from the body. You have all the good shapes inside.”
His personal image for the body and the self, though, is a ship. “A ship is like a self-portrait. The ocean is huge.” He contemplates and depicts in his work the search to find the person you fall in love with in a an ocean of people. “The ship at sea is dangerous, curious, ironic. It’s a good picture of life.”
On a more practical level Gussek recognizes that being near the ocean is invigorating. It isn’t a guaranteed cure though: in some works, such as Bleeding Ship, a puddle of red glass fluid leaks from a red glass ship. In other pieces, he experiences fluid as tears. Sometimes ships meet at sea. Sometimes glass vessels in proximity themselves represent the attempt of humans to communicate.
A particularly poignant work Three Sinking Ships in the Red Sea, depicts the ships each isolated in an individual container, sinking in isolation. “I like to tell small stories, but I don’t want to complete them. I want the audience to do that.”
Unlike birds which evolved from sea creatures, Gussek came to the ocean from the air. An earlier series of work focused on airplanes and the air environment. Part of the inspiration for these works was the destruction of Dessau, including most of the unique residences of the masters of the Bauhaus, by English and American bombers in one night in 1944.
Gussek also continues a series of rather rudimentary vehicles which are popular with collectors. Perhaps these are an homage to another element: the earth. Fire would come next as a theme, but Gussek is not obsessed with thematic consistency. A particularly successful wall-based piece spells out “I” and “YOU” in sand cast butterflies of different colors. In Salome’s Basket, manufactured of wire with wooden handles, are numerous blown glass heads.
Blue Moon, a rectangular metal rack containing large blown bubbles of glass is “about dreams. We can’t fulfill all our dreams. We store the dreams in our brain but we can’t store them all. They’re too fragile.” The rectangular container of dreams is tethered to a disproportionately small vessel which is illogically distant from its cargo of big dreams. The vignette recalls the song lyrics: “Blue Moon you saw me standing alone without a dream in my heart/Without a love of my own.” Dreams here are conflated with the moon itself: blue spheres. Unfortunately, once container of dreams crashed to the ground and shattered. Gussek recalls ruefully, “It was expensive.” Luckily, the fragility of dreams has not prevented him from representing more.