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New worlds of imagination

This image is from video artist Peter Sarkisian's work “Book,” which is part of “The Transformative Surface” exhibit at the UNM Art Museum.
This image is from video artist Peter Sarkisian's work “Book,” which is part of “The Transformative Surface” exhibit at the UNM Art Museum.
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A man no larger than the dictionary he’s crawling over is making marks on the book’s pages with a pen. The little guy moves about on hands and knees on one page, then ducks into the spine and pops up onto the facing page to write more letters and words.

The man and the dictionary are central elements of “Book,” a recent work by Santa Fe visual artist Peter Sarkisian.

“Book” is in the exhibit “The Transformative Surface” at the University of New Mexico Art Museum. It opens Friday, Sept. 14, and is one of a handful of satellite exhibits being held in conjunction with ISEA2012, being held this month in Albuquerque.

If you go
WHAT: “The Transformative Surface”
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 14, through Dec. 15. Reception 5-7 p.m. Friday.
WHERE: University of New Mexico Art Museum, Center for the Arts, UNM campus
HOW MUCH: The reception is free; otherwise admission is with a suggested $5 donation

“Book” is the most of recent of a series of pieces Sarkisian has produced in recent years.

“The smaller the figures are, the more involved it is in isolating them,” Sarkisian said. “In the case of the ‘Book,’ I shot that on my studio floor, suspended a camera about 20 feet up and shot it in sequences.

“What is 10 inches high was 30 feet high in my studio. It’s the space around the figure that is more complex. That space represents yards in the real world. So there is a lot of real estate I had to control to reduce it to that small figure,” he added.

The man is a miniature version of Sarkisian himself.

He said the theme of “Book” is language and the direction that language is moving in our society.

“Granted, we are technologically so advanced in terms of language, but we’ve lost the elegance of language. Three hundred years ago language was so much more precise than it is now,” he said.

An example of the imprecision in today’s spoken English is the repeated use of the world “like.” Sarkisian said he’s trying to teach his 6-year-old to not use that word.

All of his work, he said, deals with what he sees as the conflict between experience or absence of experience. He, in fact, bemoans the increasing use of videos, which he equates with the absence of experience.

“It’s experientially void,” Sarkisian said. “As a video artist, I don’t have to go anywhere else to find a rich topic. … Video is a completely ubiquitous component of our lives and we draw so much from it, as a culture.”

He thinks we shape ourselves based on what we see in the fantasy, make-believe video world that’s on the screen.

Trouble ensues, Sarkisian said, when we draw ideas from that fantasy world and try to put them to work in the real world.

“I’m trying to instill an element of validity back in the (video) medium,” he said, “so the viewer has to ask, ‘What is my relation to this? What is my experience right now?’ ”

It is the first group exhibit of its kind at the UNM Art Museum to feature innovative new media, video and sound works.

Sarkisian, who has exhibited internationally, is one of six guest artists in “The Transformative Surface.” There are also eight UNM faculty members and one former faculty member showing. One of the faculty is Andrea Polli, who also is the artistic director of ISEA2012. ISEA stands for International Symposium on Electronic Art.

Polli’s work in the exhibit is titled “Particle Falls,” which she had created with Chuck Varga as a temporary public art piece for the city of San Jose, Calif., in 2010.

“It is a large, computer-generated waterfall. The waterfall changes, transforms into a fireball based on particulate pollution,” she said.

A monitor measures in real time the particulate pollution around the UNM campus, Polli said. She is Mesa del Sol Chair of Digital Media and associate professor of Art & Ecology at UNM.

Sara Otto-Diniz, the museum’s interim director, said the experience of visitors to the exhibit “will be akin to accompanying Alice down the rabbit hole – each work of art creates its own imaginative world into which the work invites us to enter. So, when you plan your visit, give yourself plenty of time.”

The other exhibiting faculty are Bill Gilbert, Catherine Harris, Szu-Han Ho, Claudia X. Valdes, R. Lee Montgomery, Patrick Manning and Mary Tsiongas; Shaurya Kumar is a former UNM faculty.

The other guest artists besides Sarkisian are Jim Campbell, Bruce Nauman, Daniel Reeves, Woody Vasulka and Gail Wight.

The UNM exhibit was organized by Tsiongas, E. Luanne McKinnon and Michele Penhall.

There are three lectures being presented in the UNM Art Museum in conjunction with “The Transformative Surface” exhibit. All three are by guest artists with work in the exhibit. They are:

♦ Gail Wight, noon Sept. 20.

♦ Daniel Reeves, 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25.

♦ Jim Campbell, 5:30 p.m. Nov. 6.

The lectures are free and open to the public. The museum is in the Center for the Arts.

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