I met Vladimir at M.I.T. in 1990 and we were married in 1995. I called him “Vova” but most of our American friends called him “Vlad.” He was a private person, very cautious about sharing information from his past. But in the summer of 2006 he asked me to write down some of his memories and thoughts. We worked on this project in our free time until 2013. He would talk–stream of consciousness–and I would type as fast as I could. The blog posts filed under “Life Stories” are from those sessions.
As the hole deepened, broadened,
the sculptor’s shovel ovating a shape,
he saw the tree, down the decades,
leaves on pointe, dancing pirouettes
on a winded stage, a blossomed mobile.
Even the winter freeze
Of the half-foot of humus
necklacing the husky trunk
will cock it a little,
like the jaunt of a haughty hat
tipped against the headwinds,
brim all a-riffle.
The nurseryman idled up,
a fender of the old truck, its bolt missing,
quaking like an aspen, in time with
the engine’s tick.
“What kind is it?” asked the shoveler.
“Baldwin, but we call ‘em Bobbin’ Apple.
The springy limbs are never still, once
the apples load on.”
And so it was, down the decades,
roots reaching ever back
through unwitnessed stillness of soil,
twigs clicking heels in the rain,
branches lining out the old soft-shoe
on a sanded stage of wind,
and in a perfect calm,
the impossibly visible surge
David Vandiver, April 27, 2014
Sarabande…dances with the faintest zephyr and rolls with the gusts and gales. She remains joyfully confident at all times.”
— Michael Waddell, computer programmer
The mobile adds spirit and life to my office”
— Lev Zelenyi, Director of Space Research Institute, Moscow
Minuet…speaks to me of the beauty and fragility of life and all the gratitude I have for the delicate balance that makes it all work!”
— Diane Fillion Constantino, speech language pathologist
Vladimir’s mobiles bring joy and delight and relaxation for me and my patients. They add a lot to the healing process.”
— Elisa A. Adams, chiropractor and sculptor
— Tom Rush, musician
They elicit a “feeling” of lightness (not ‘light’, as in lumens, but the absence of gravity) and have an almost heavenly-type of presence.…”
— Rosalie Uchanski, Washington University
Click here to see wonderful mobiles made by some of Vladimir’s former students who continue to create and enjoy mobiles together.
… I had a lot of down time in my hospital bed and … I used a styrofoam cup, string from gauze, medical tape, and a couple paper clips I found and made myself a lovely little mobile that really helped calm my nerves. Very meditative. And as always, the creative process feeds my soul. Thank you for sharing your gift and helping us learn to have fun! No matter what is going on!”
— Sarah Alessandro
When the students are armed with tools and instructions, having watched demonstrations, we are eager to try hands- on practice [and] a meditative, repetitive industriousness pervades the room…. After some wobbling and seesawing, the mobiles … gain a new life, a precarious and beautiful balance hovering in a somewhat reluctant harmony. Like clouds that are soothing almost because they could burst into rain but don’t, yet … mesmerizing because a visual proof is achieved to show a manipulated, palpable balance, though precarious (temporary?); the serenity of a human-made order in a chaotic world…”
— Amy Mccormick
To make a mobile gives me creative satisfaction and total absorption in the process. Mobiles are all about balance and movement — two qualities I strive for in life. The principles of balancing mobiles and the techniques of building them can be learned in the beginning mobile making class offered by Vladimir Barsukov. Then you are on your way to create whatever you can imagine.”
— Carolyn Kingston
In the act of creating something new, something artful, we lose track of time. With mobiles we also enter a new realm, one of light, air, and balance. Balancing different shapes, colors and weights, we are challenged to think in another dimension. Each time we place one object in relation to another within the mobile’s sphere of action, we need to find the point of balance. And finding that point is like a small miracle, a second in time and space when everything works — an amazing moment of recognition. The tiniest shift and the balance could be gone…. The entire experience is healthful and healing.”
— Irene Fairley
As far as I know, my father Mois Barsukov was in the military for nine years; he was a submariner and an officer in the marines. Shortly after my parents were married in 1939, my father was sent to fight in the war between Finland and the USSR. There was no break for him between this war and what Russians call The Great Patriotic War or The Great War for the Homeland—the USSR’s war with Germany.
In 1944 my father was wounded with a concussion and was sent to Tbilisi, Georgia, and my mother joined him there; it must have been their first opportunity to spend much time together. After my father was well enough to work he was assigned to teach in a military school called Nahimovskoye Uchilische. He taught astronomy among other things. He was teaching at this school when I was born, just a few months after the Great Patriotic war was over. I was born in January 1945 in a private house on Krilov Street in Tbilisi.
This school where my father worked was a military academy for orphaned boys. There were five or six such campuses in different cities. The goal of these schools was to take boys from the streets and turn them into well-educated and physically trained officers. The boys even learned ballroom dancing. Some of these schools are still in existence, but the one in Tbilisi where my father taught closed in 1955. Unfortunately the archives of the school are lost, but some enthusiastic former students have started a website. They are collecting pictures and documents and trying to build up a history of the school.
I ran across their website one day and sent an email to the webmaster. I was surprised to get a warm reply from a real person: Valentine Maximov, nicknamed “Fregat” (frigate). I’ve had several long email exchanges with him, and he has shown strong interest in learning about my father. He asked for photos and dates, and then finally he asked me what my father was called. This caused me to pause.
My father’s full name was Mois Itshok Fiselevitch Barsukov. Barsukov is not a Jewish name; it’s a Russian name, and how my father’s family came to have that name is a puzzle to me, because we are Jewish. The rest of my father’s name–Mois Itshok Fiselevitch–is clearly and obviously Jewish. Also, my father often went by two different first names: Mishe or Sashe. Not Mois. And what is more, some people called him by the middle name Fyodorovitch instead of Fiselevitch. These other names (Mishe, Sashe, and Fyodorovitch) do not sound Jewish—they would be more typical for a Russian than a Jew. So when Fregat asked my father’s name I was uncertain how to answer. I worried that if I told him my father’s real name he would not want to deal with me because of the anti-Semitism that is still so common in Russia. And besides that, I don’t actually know what my father called himself at that time.
So in the end I only gave the last name and unfortunately my father’s name has not been found yet among the documents about that school.
My father was always attracted to and attractive to women. He married more than once, but for as long as I knew him, he always carried a picture of my mother in his wallet and her picture hung on the wall of his apartment.
“А мир за окном, мир неведомых таинств
Деревья танцуют кощунственный танец
И дождь, покаскуха, бормочет уныло
И сердце, грустя о разлуке, заныло.
Как часто мы гоним, что любим, что мило
И с близкой мечтой расстаемся легко.
И мчимся к другой, что от нас далеко
И верим неясным, обманчивым теням.
А то, что в руках, мы бросаем, не ценим.”
“Где ты дорогая, где теперь?
Я сохранить твой образ не сумел
Но иногда, как призрак, ты примчишься
Как Солнца луч и неба чищ
Неведомая, новая, простая,
И взбудоража кровь,
И дни мои опять бесснуются в сметеньи
И радость вновь уходит вслед за тенью
И чтобы грусть хоть как – то заглушить
Я пью обман приятный для души”
“Где ты дорогая, где теперь?
Море снова шепчет о тебе
Я считаю каждую волну,
Звезд неясных призрачные блики.
Берег детства в мраке утонул,
И ушло все то, что было близким.
И теперь меня навстречу бурям
Хилое суденышко несет.
Я не знаю, что со мною будет
Столько недоступного во всем.
И зачем, отчаяние множат
Тыщи непонятных бед?
И зачем, забытое тревожа,
Море снова шепчет о тебе?”
“Под твоими окнами пепельная темень,
Тихо ходят около, тихо плачут тени.
Тени тех обманутых красотою гордой.
Снова что-то манит их в тишине у города.
До тебя ж далекая тыщи длинных лесенок
Ну а там, за окнами, ты читаешь Лессинга.
Книжные истории трогают иначе,
И что тебе, которые под Луною плачут.
Всех упомнишь разве, память их не копит,
Если кто приснится в сне-калейдоскопе.
Под твоими окнами пепельная темень,
Тихо ходят около, тихо плачут тени.
Фонари безмолвные притаились где-то,
В маленькие облачки звездочки одеты.”
“Я люблю расстоянья,
Я люблю расставанья,
Самолеты, летящие за облака
И простые словечки – прощай и пока –
Оставляющие прошлое в прошлом”
When I meet someone new they almost always ask me this unwelcome question: “Where are you from?” I usually reply “I’m from Cambridge” hoping this response will stop their questions. I’d rather not talk about my past with strangers, but it’s always obvious to people that my accent is foreign, not regional, and they want to pin it down. To me, my accent is like a fingerprint to a criminal: impossible to get rid of. Maybe there is even more than the accent–something intangible that indicates I am from a different culture. Sometimes I wonder what it means to know a language and whether it is possible to really learn a language when you start at age 44.
Language and culture are so strongly entwined that you can’t separate them. When I lived in the Soviet Union the word “kupitz” (to buy) was replaced in the vernacular by the word “dostatz” (to get). Why? Because you couldn’t just go to a store and buy what you wanted—most of the stores were empty. So to “get” something you either had to stand in a long line or know someone who had been fortunate enough to get it by standing in the right line. It got so that if you saw a bunch of people standing in line, often you would just get in that line and ask people “sto dayut?” (what are they giving?), because it might be something you wanted. There is a joke related to this. A guy gets in a long line, asks “sto dayut?” and is told they are selling cheese, which he wants. Finally he gets to the front of the line, gets his piece of cheese and begins to eat it. But it tastes terrible because it is not cheese but soap. (The soap and the cheese in the USSR looked alike.) Nevertheless he continues to eat it, saying “ya tibya kupil, ya tibya s’iem” (I bought you, so I will eat you).
To obtain books was even more complicated. So many books were banned by the government. And if not banned they were published in such small quantities that they were precious, almost like currency. (Except books about communist leaders, which no one wanted to read—they were everywhere, like dirt.) If we heard that an interesting new book might possibly come out, people would go and stand in line at a bookstore just on the chance that the book might come in to the store.
A foreigner would not understand the phrase “sto dayut?” or the cheese vs. soap joke, or the difficulty getting books, without an understanding of Soviet reality. So in the same way I suppose people will go on asking me “Where are you from?” But I plan to keep on replying “I’m from Cambridge.”
July 22, 2009
Last night I dreamt I was in Russia and there was a huge airplane flying overhead. It dropped something enormous and at first I thought this thing looked very interesting and intriguing, like a giant sculpture. But it turned out to be a huge net and it dropped on me; I was trapped along with some other people. But a guy near me had a cigarette and we were able to burn a hole in the net. Pretty often I dream that I’m in Russia and I get caught, and in these dreams I’m thinking that I’m an American citizen and I can get away.
“My earliest memories are from kindergarten, from some kind of medical check-up. I remember standing in line naked, with girls, and feeling very, very embarrassed. Memories are strange; some details I remember perfectly, others are just like hints of things, like just a scent that you go around, sniff and get a little hint of it…”
This piece has had several different names including “Dilemma,” “Girl and Devil,” and “Quandary.” Look closely: the two figures depend on each other and are also stuck in their situations. The Girl cannot get down from the tower because it is broken. The Devil cannot climb up the ladder because the rungs are broken. The Girl is precariously balanced on one toe, and if the Devil falls or is removed from the ladder, both Girl and ladder fall. The piece communicates a philosophical message, and like all of Vladimir’s sculptures, at the heart are the themes of balance and interconnectedness.