January was named in honor of Janus, the two-faced Roman god of endings and beginnings. On this, the first day of 2014, I mourn an ending and welcome a beginning.

In mourning

Our modern age says chaos reigns: entropy, Heisenberg’s uncertainty, Max Planck, quantum mechanics. But our hearts are not mere quanta, empty and full; we yearn for the ancient premise of a perfect universe in perfect harmony.

My friend, Vladimir Barsukov, died suddenly on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. We knew him as a student and teacher of kinetic art, perpetual mobiles. Vladimir said: “I’ve always been fascinated with beautiful and functional objects that rely on basic principles of mechanics and geometry. The movements remind the viewer of the fragility and interconnectedness of life.”

Born in Russia, January 21, 1945, and educated as a mathematician and physicist (Ph.D. Saint Petersburg University, 1967), he was a researcher and teacher at MIT from 1990 – 2005, and maintained a passion for mobile making throughout his life.

Vladimir was an artist, a dreamer, and a restless seeker. His childlike vision delighted in everyday things –

forks, spoons, as well as textures, shapes, colors and materials of all kinds. Infinitely curious and unabashed, he touched every object he encountered at the Marshfield Festival of the Arts with us in May 2011, querying vendors about their designs, finishes and techniques – an alchemist exploring another clue.

He thought, he taught, he labored and questioned. He balanced shapes and wires in marvelous symmetry; his mobiles were like living creatures to him, continually moving and changing in space, light and color.

I was among his many students, who marveled at the simple joy he taught of balancing and bringing to life the elements of kinetic sculpture. He shared his talent and taught with wit and a contagious love of knowledge. Vladimir was the universal man. Scientist and spiritualist, cynic and romantic, outsider and world citizen. He worshiped at the alter of insight, harmony and balance – literally juxtaposing opposing forces to create a world in balance.

He trafficked in the music of the spheres and conjured up a universe in harmony — both science and art fully realized. Vladimir once said “Through my work I have discovered what many others have noticed: that precise science and art both reflect nature in a beautiful and elegant way.” Amen, brother.


sarabande-winter-2010In my winter garden, Vladimir’s “Sarabande” still celebrates his presence. In motion.

Here he and his wife, Ann Dix, install Sarabande in my garden, October, 2010.


Ryan Flynn visits our house frequently with our granddaughter, Maisy, whom Vladimir adored. Ryan offered this:

May he make heaven a little cooler with his sculptures.

Besides our sadness, our thoughts are with Ann, who has lost an irreplaceable partner. I am grateful to her for sharing her saddest of news. It was an honor to be Vladimir’s friend.

Kensington Stone Braithwaite

Forward-facing Janus celebrates our new grandson, Kensington Stone Braithwaite, born October 3, 2013 to Kristin Stone Braithwaite and Kenyatta Braithwaite. He arrived at 1:19am weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces, at 20.5 inches tall with a very full head of hair, kind of Valentino style.

He was dressed for the new year in typical Braithwaite style. We are thrilled with our newest family member.


11 Responses to “Janus”

  • A beautiful tribute to this vital person — so sorry to learn of his passing. I am glad his work and presence live on in your garden. It is good to think that both Maisy and Kensi will know him through Sarabande.

  • Meg:

    Michael, what a heartfelt and articulate tribute to your friend and teacher. Thank you for writing about it. I am sorry for your loss. Your life was richer for having had Vladmir in it, and I know you will be missing him.

  • Carolyn and Dick:

    We are sorry to learn of your loss, Michael. We remember meeting Vladimir at your house. How wonderful to have a concrete memorial in the form of his mobile in your garden. We look forward to revisiting your oasis.

  • DJ Waddell:

    Dear Bro-

    I am sorry to learn of Vladimir’s passing, but it reminds me how glad I am that you made the virtual introduction between us. He and I shared some thoughts about teaching science and getting artists to appreciate mathematics. As in your introductory lines, I introduce the trajectory of 20th Century science as the emergence from the 19th Century’s complacently optimistic views of the clockwork universe into the rapid fire discovery of Relativity, Uncertainty and Incompleteness.

    Here is a link to reference (that you may have sent me in the first place!) for the one you didn’t already cite, Incompleteness: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/04/03/the_mathematicians_lament/?page=full
    And a more technical one: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/goedel-incompleteness/

  • Kate:

    A touching tribute to Vladamir, that brought to life the feeling of a man with many interests and passions. My deepest condolences to his family

  • sad to hear of the passing of your dear creative friend. He is wonderful artist, now in motion, in a pattern much like the motion of his mobiles.

  • Ann Dix:

    Vlad would have appreciated the Janus entry, with its touching and beautiful tribute to both loss and renewal. As always: balance. It means a lot to me. Thank you Michael. -Ann

  • Laura Zimmerman:

    Vlad was a neighbor and he graced Maple Avenue with his unfailing warmth, astute observations, and wit. He was fascinated by everything he encountered on this street–even my garden sprinkler, which under his gaze suddenly became a complex object of delight. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. It expresses the appreciation and love so many of us feel for Vlad and for Ann.

  • Marjorie Saunders:

    Vlad was a neighbor on Maple Avenue. Meeting him was always accompanied by a warm welcoming hug. I treasure my time with him, the parts of himself he shared with us and his art that reminds us what was so important to him, beauty, grace and balance.

  • Chris Malmquist:


  • Chris Malmquist:

    I am a little late catching up with e-mail, but was touched and moved to tears by the synchronicity of Vladimir’s passing and Kensy’s birth. It was a true joy and privilege to know Vladimir, and I look forward to knowing Kensy better in the future.