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Review: Burson reincarnates lost letters into artistic expression

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 7, 2012 - For many of us, an attic is a dark, dusty place where old furniture or family heirlooms go to hibernate. For St. Louis-based artist Bunny Burson, items in her attic provided inspiration for a captivating body of work, as more than 100 letters revealed a lost portion of family tragedy.

Written by her grandparents from 1939-41 to their daughter living in the United States, the letters exposed their failed attempts to flee Germany and, later, Latvia during Nazi occupation. Intimate relationships and stories formerly unknown to the artist, these letters have been reincarnated through prints, collages, and installations in Burson’s exhibit, Hidden in Plain Sight.

With a palette of mostly dark, muted blues and grays, Burson has created a visual narrative that is both entrancing and uncertain. Beautifully formed, vast lines of text – excerpts from the letters – are rendered in rich repetition and layered eloquently with transfers and overlays.

This sense of depth and information is repeated throughout the gallery and combined with sketches of shoes, chessboards and everyday objects, as well as old German newspaper clippings and city maps, all of which create a world that is at once both familiar and unattainable.

Some sense of fluency is removed because the text is in German, but more important, it is reduced from its communicative expression to nostalgic, abstract forms, emphasizing an aesthetic –as opposed to informative - role of the text in this installation.

Bronze and aluminum cutouts, like stacks of letters, and cast resin nameplates solidify the dual sense of familiarity and the need for explanation.

Burson has created a poetic sense of intimacy and disconnect by showcasing her newly filled void in family history in a way that is a mark of the inaccessible past. Ultimately, Burson’s work functions as a way to contemplate our own family histories and consider our own understanding of our past.

Katie Hasler, the Visitor Services Manager at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, is new to St. Louis. The Beacon has asked her to share her critical thoughts as she learns about the local arts scene.