When you step in front of artist Tyler Clark Burke’s glass sculpture at the unREAL exhibit, you disappear. Or rather you transcend, simultaneously feeling more and less, at once quieted and entirely unnerved. Stand in front of the rotating sculpture – made of color-morphing laser-etched glass and the size of a Rubik’s Cube – and Burke’s cryptic description of her piece invoking a sense of “fleeting energy locked into glass” begins to make a lot more sense.
Locked in a glass display case at the end of a long and unglamorous hallway at the Harbourfront Centre, Burke’s sculpture contains the profile images of a man and bear spliced together, locked in glass. It is captivating; its slow rotation, its gradual shifts through deep neons, the way in which the lights reflect off the glass and surrounds itself in a multi-color laser beam kaleidoscope. Not even the cafeteria-style tables alongside the artwork or the tired staff closing up the snack bar can break the trance that this piece elicits. It is what I imagine meditation would be if I were any good at it.
Burke’s sculpture is ancient and familiar, yet utterly extraterrestrial. Reading her description of the piece, it is exactly the feeling she envisioned for her audience. In Burke’s words, it is “nostalgia for nostalgia”, the cozy feeling of discomfort that wraps around you in ease. To Burke, ‘nostalgia’ is the “manufacturing of memories both true and false” and as such is inherently unreal. It is our mind’s futile attempt to preserve those memories we hold dear, to exalt them to the status of nostalgic longing, giving them the warm fuzziness of selective memory. But these delightfully censored memories are always “overtly fantastical in their presentation”, and how Burke describes her sculptures.
Her creation is a powerful meditation on our compulsion to nostalgia and our romanticizing of the past, of the murky waters in our minds and our hearts between the real and the unreal. But before the faint glow of the pivoting sculpture, it hardly matters which memory or sensation or image is real – the only thing that matters is that it feels that way.