Fall 2007 Fellow
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blowup, a London photographer discovers that he may have unwittingly recorded a murder; however, when he enlarges his own pictures to look for confirmation, facts, or even a corpse the “evidence” dissolves into an enigmatic field of marks. The movie has been discussed as an exploration of the meaning, limitations and allure of art-making. At the Creative Glass Center of America, the work of Moshe Bursuker, a Fall 2007 Resident Fellow, addresses similar aesthetic issues within the more intimate context of family photographs and a history enmeshed in politics and society.
At Hartford Art School, Bursuker received degrees in photography and sculpture, so his decision to combine the two comes as no surprise. He still maintains a production line of tall 30” bottles; however, Bursuker soon recognized that his primary direction would include the printing of photographs on glass, emphasizing content over the craft skills he might use in construction.” With any medium,” he says, “you have to go with your heart.” Recently, he has mostly moved away from an earlier successful series combining photographic images of clouds and glass, a subject particularly suited to the transparency and light communicating qualities of glass. For around a year at the time of his CGCA residency he had been exploring the more autobiographical and more human area of his own family’s archival photographs, which are perhaps more precious and laden with possible meanings because they are not all that numerous. Bursuker’s completed works often juxtapose prints of several pictures of people and places. “I try to find a purpose and a meaning for all the elements so that when they come together they relate.” Nevertheless, images themselves are often enlarged so radically that the actual subject is well nigh impossible to decipher without help.
“When you’re grown up, you’re the product of choices that other people made for you…. As I get older,” Bursuker reports, “I am thinking more about what my life would have been like had my family not left Russia.” His parents were both highly educated in Russia, unusual for Jewish citizens at the time. In 1970 they were permitted to join the first wave of Russians allowed to emigrate to Israel, arriving penniless. The couple initially settled in a kibbutz where his father had to learn Hebrew before he could return to school and earn his PhD in biochemistry.
Although, his mother enjoyed the freedom of life in Israel, when Bursuker was five, the family decided to move to New York City at the urging of his father’s sister. Bursuker grew up in Connecticut and has since settled in Brooklyn, where, he says, he’s long wanted to live.
At CGCA, he put greatly enlarged snapshots and studio photographs on roundels cropped to a rectilinear format which sometimes include multiple layers of glass. He arranges the roundel images as tiles seeking “purpose and meaning” in the relationships and then casts them into tablets as large as 30” x 50” x 4” (“by far” the largest piece he’s yet made). In one work he juxtaposes pictures of a soldier carrying a riffle, a child, and a war memorial in Israel incised with Hebrew text.
Through sandblasting he exposes underlying zones of sepia and white glass in the roundels. Bursuker says, “Whatever is exposed by the sandblasting is a surprise. It’s good to let go of a little bit of control.” The finished pieces, which Bursuker says relate in a loose way to the work of David Hockney, will be mounted on wood and displayed as free-standing vertical panels.
There are two types of encryption here. First, it’s very hard to reconstruct the images. I was able to recognize non-Romanized text but not the fact that it was Hebrew before identifying human elements. “You can see the pixels,” Bursuker says, “but it’s basically dissolution into abstraction.” Second, after being embedded in thick layers of clear glass, the blown roundels in layered colors no longer retain the character of their making. “I can’t deny how much I love to blow glass but in the end you don’t see traces of it”
Bursuker is touched by the old photographs which have been carefully preserved cherished so that “the image almost becomes an icon.” He is awed by the tenacity with which family members transcended adverse circumstances to document their existence. He is touched by the faces. Even in “such hard times, they can pose for these photographs.” The work, then, is a tribute to the human drive to survive, to find meaning and to preserve and record family relationships. In a sense, it is an homage to art-making itself.
That perhaps is Bursuker’s larger project. “I think there’s a difference between craft work and concept. Both standards should be high. I don’t know if I’ll ever master glass because there are so many aspects of glass. I don’t want to stop learning; When you‘ve stopped learning then you’ve reached a dead end. “