Etchings of Identity: Michelle Murillo’s ‘A Measure of Time’

In her solo show at Bullseye Glass the local artist effectively employs a hybrid of printmaking and glass sculpture.

It’s easy for an art critic to claim that glass sculpture highlights the fragile character of whatever form or figure it’s representing. But local artist Michelle Murillo’s glass sculptures seem far more fragile than most glass artwork. They are almost ghostly, barely there, as if they could disintegrate merely from the force of being looked at. Murillo made the pieces during a three-month residency at Bullseye Glass (4514 Hollis St., Emeryville) — a resource center for glass artists that provides everything from technical workshops to equipment — where they are now on view in the solo show A Measure of Time.

The most captivating pieces in the show are ones that resemble mounds of salt serendipitously formed into recognizable IDs and passports. Murillo has spent most of her career as a printmaker, and teaches printmaking at California College of the Arts. To form these life-size sculptures of identification documents, she employed a conventional screen-printing technique with a loose mesh for the screen, using glass powder instead of ink. She also printed straight onto a baking sheet instead of cloth or another piece of glass. After forty or fifty prints, the powder would settle into a substantial outline of her image, which she would then fire in a kiln to harden into a standalone sculpture called a “frit wafer.” In terms of layering, the process is loosely analogous to 3D printing.

For A Measure of Time, Murillo repeated this painstaking process until she had recreated documents held by her ancestors in numbers proportionate to her racial makeup. Together, they evoke the frailty of notions of self and the counterintuitive ways in which society requires evidence of identity.

Murillo is primarily of Colombian and Irish descent, and often makes work that deals with her cultural lineage. A Measure of Time is specifically inspired by a DNA test that she took while researching her past, which both confirmed and complicated her understanding of her ancestry. The centerpiece of her show is a small sea of overlapping countries that represent her heritage made from pieces of shattered glass that she melded together. The delicate, blue sculptures are transparently mounted just above the ground so that they linger like a shimmering fog. They are also placed next to a percentage breakdown of Murillo’s DNA test, as if to function as an illustration of the results in the forms of floating references to faraway places. Over time, the sculptures will break down, as pieces of the puzzle gradually fall away.

During my recent visit to Bullseye, manager Camille Hamilton pointed out the rising popularity of innovative techniques, such as the hybrid of printmaking and glass sculpture that Murillo used — and actually learned in a workshop at Bullseye taught by artist Stacey Lynn Smith. Murillo is the second artist-in-residence at Bullseye, and the center will continue to support and show artists who are experienced in other disciplines but hope to incorporate glass into their practice. As A Measure of Time indicates, the work you find at Bullseye is not the traditional mosaic or blown glass spectacle you might expect.

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