Bumps in the dark

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Peter Sarkisian, Extruded video engine, large shape 1, version 3*

The entrance to Peter Sarkisian‘s Video Works exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer MOA is a massive doorway at the top of a staircase. Bumps, squeaks, slams and disembodied whispers echo from inside the space. It sounds like a pack of enthusiastic zombies has set up a manufacturing plant.

I actually had to take a deep breath before going inside, where I encountered Sarkisian’s unique video creations, produced using hi-def cameras, projectors and 3D objects (instead of screens). All of the pieces on display were packed into one large, dark room, hence the eerie noises that overlap and drown each other out. This caused the concepts behind the pieces to congeal in my mind as my attention strayed from one piece to the next.

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One moment I focused on a group of fidgeting hands tapping typewriter-style on a tabletop, and the next my attention was caught by a plastic screen formed in the shape of a peculiar machine with whirring gears and pistons projected on it. Are the hands, which closely mimic each other at slightly different intervals, a comment on the way we pass and process information? Is the machine, which has ribbons of words with stories Sarkisian’s friends told him churning through it, the artist’s comment on modern technology’s way of turning our stories into monotone blurbs on a screen? Was my analysis of the first piece affected by the mechanical noises emitting from the second?

After I emerged from the exhibition, I stumbled upon a lecture by Sarkisian himself downstairs. He explained how some of the pieces were made, including the 3D machine screen. He commissions a company to create a wooden model based on his computer drawings, and then they vacuum seal plastic over the model to create a 3D mold. Cool.

During the Q and A, I got to ask Sarkisian about the noisy nature of the exhibition space. He said:
“Many of the pieces were created to be in a quiet room alone. The trick is to walk through and tweak the audio so that you can walk through and still sort of get that effect.”

I’m not sure Sarkisian succeeded in that, but I’m kind of glad he didn’t.
*pictures posted with the permission of the artist (I meekly asked him after the show, and we sealed it with a handshake =P)

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