Monday, July 16, 2012

Projected Reality:

Those bubbles ain't real. Video artist Peter Sarkisian blends reality with projections to create tangible, three-dimensional illusions in SMOCA's new exhibition.
Projected Reality
Video Works of Peter Sarkisian / Gallery Review
July 16
by Merintha Pinson
Projected Reality
Video Works of Peter Sarkisian, 1996-2008
/ Gallery Review
SMOCA, March 5 - Sep. 9
Words By Merintha Pinson
I had just walked out of the SMoCA Lounge, a large room with space for lively gatherings, adorned with recycled packing crates on the ceiling and exciting red lights that stain everything within their reach. After experiencing the energy of this red room, the darkened entrance of the Peter Sarkisian gallery was disconcerting.

As I stood in the gaping entrance, darkness surrounded me, broken only by the single light that illuminated Sarkisian’s biography, identifying him as a “master video artist.” From inside the gallery, I heard a jumble of sounds, including water droplets, the pounding of metal, whispered voices, and labored breathing. Intrigued, I stepped inside.

The scene that lay before me was lively and inviting. There were a dozen pieces spread throughout the shadowy room, each creating its own energy. Each one called to me, daring me to step forward and take part in its unique viewing experience. Sarkisian carefully created each piece by combining sculptural elements and projected video imagery and enhancing them with an appropriate audio background. These sounds gave the gallery life and made me feel as though I were standing in a forgotten basement, on a factory floor, next to a video game console, in the middle of the desert, and in a library all at once. But as I approached each piece individually, its energy would push away the rest and invite me into a space where I could fully experience it alone.

This experience is both exhilarating and meditative. As each piece pulls the viewer into its space, it encourages them to stay and ponder the sights and sounds before them. It forces them to analyze what lies before them and challenges them to identify the illusions that have lured them to the piece in the first place. The whole gallery is a three-dimensional testimonial of the underlying premise of Sarkisian’s work. He is known for actively using video “as an instrument against commercialized media, namely television, in order to transform the act of watching video from an experience-killing act to an experience-creating act” [1]. True to his vision, Sarkisian made sure that every part of that gallery was an experience.

As I stood in front of his piece, Sleep Defined, I felt chills on the back of my neck as I watched the video projection of this mysterious shape wiggling around underneath the pillowcase of an actual, three-dimensional pillow. There was nothing physically crawling on the pillow, but it looked so realistic. Sarkisian used the video of this mysterious, moving critter to create an illusion that violates the familiar comfort of a pillow. It was an eerie sight, made real by the realness of the pillow and Sarkisian’s successful attempt to create an experience for his viewers.

Other pieces in the gallery were more thought-provoking. I stood in front of a piece inadequately named Foreground Reversal for at least ten minutes, thinking. As indicated by its title, the piece pushed the foreground to the back and vice versa. Sarkisian depicted this reversal with a 3-D vacuum formed thermal plastic screen in the shape of rocks. This created an illusion that the rocks, now positioned in the foreground, were actually large boulders. The video projection shows four Hispanic men, presumably four illegal immigrants, laboriously climbing over these rocks, reaching one side of the screen and disappearing, then appearing in the background as giants, taking large, effortless steps back to their origin, disappearing off the other side, then returning to start their fruitless journey all over again. It looked as though Sarkisian was using this repetitive video projection to show the struggles of hopeful immigrants, accentuating the difficulty of their journeys with the protruding shape of the boulders, the continuous sound of the crunch of gravel, and the unrelenting glare of the sun high up in the sky. It was a very powerful piece.

Another piece that grabbed my attention was named Dusted. It consisted of a painted wood cube that stood boldly in the center of the gallery with five video projectors pointed at its exposed sides. When I first glanced at it, the sides were all completely black. The top was a bright white square with a circle that appeared to be cut out of the cube. As I inched forward and looked into the cut-out, I saw the back of someone’s head, a shoulder, a foot, a penis, all pressed closely against other body parts. A woman’s voice reached out to me from the darkness, breathily whispering the names of men and women that were barely audible over an ominous humming noise. Slightly embarrassed, I stepped back, unsure of what I was looking at. But I couldn’t look away. As I watched, hands, knees, and bottoms brushed against the box, wiping away the blackness of the cube and collecting it on their skins, sullying the purity of their clean, white skin. I began to make out two figures, one male and female, both nude. There were moments when they looked as if they were passionately embracing and other moments where they were obviously trying so readjust themselves more comfortably in their tight confines. But no matter how they moved, they never seemed to be satisfied with their positions and the incessant movement continued. It was much more difficult for me to come to a conclusion about this piece, but I believe that was Sarkisian’s intention.

Each of Sarkisian’s pieces was created with audio and visual illusions that were meant to “trap the viewer between conflicting interpretations, thereby forcing a state of self-awareness that is otherwise absent while watching television” [ibid]. By inviting the viewer to experience a piece that seems so realistic, so thought-provoking, or so strange, it makes them pause for a moment and think about what they are seeing. Before they can come to a conclusion about what exactly that is, they must take all of it in including the sounds, the video projection, the illusions, and their relationship with the work as a whole. By doing this, Sarkisian is able to heighten his viewer’s awareness and help them move away from simply watching the video clips. They are now experiencing it.

* * *

I highly recommend that you take the time to indulge in this experience.

You can find this gallery at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art until September 9, 2012. For more information, visit SMOCA's website.


[2] All images are from Peter Sarkisian's website and are the property of Peter Sarkisian. So don't go stealing his stuff.

Posted on July 16, 2012


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