Peter Sarkisian
American, born 1965

Dusted, 1998
Five-projection digital-video, plywood box, and audio track, 29 1/2 x 33 x 33 in.
Museum Purchase

Upon entering the darkened gallery, visitors see a glowing box on the floor in the middle of the room. A circular opening punctuates its opaque top, and its transparent sides are covered on the inside with a dark, sootlike dust that is mysteriously smeared and wiped away. Two nude human figures, male and female, slowly twist and turn within the box, as if attempting to find a comfortable position in their tight enclosure. Occasionally, one of them extends a hand through the opening, leaving dark smudges on the top of the box. From elsewhere in the gallery, a female voice whispers a list of male and female first names. As the couple continues twisting and turning, their naked bodies become coated in the dust that once obscured them from view; the sides of the box become transparent as the figures darken. Then the box goes blank. Moments later, it is illuminated again, and the surreal, dreamlike sequence repeats itself.

Peter Sarkisian first exhibited Dusted at New York's I-20 Gallery in 1998, gaining wide recognition for this singular video sculpture. Trained in cinematography, he had begun making video installations four years earlier. Critics applauded his bold move to replace the video screen with a three-dimensional object that occupied space in the gallery and demanded viewer engagement. As he said at the time:

There is a real sense of shared space with the image. You don't get that when you watch television because you’re looking at a box held to a frame. Television is a reference to another time and place. With my stuff there’s less a sense of mediation between you and the image.(1)

Although Dusted reaped nearly unanimous praise, critics made divergent associations with it. They ranged from viewing the couple as Adam and Eve, to musing on the difficulties of modern-day romantic relationships, to comparing the traditions of abstraction and figuration in art history. Sarkisian himself saw Dusted in even broader and more philosophical terms: 'The core of this work is balance," he said, "the equal and opposite relationship between clarity and obscurity, growth and decay, life and death."(2)

Interestingly, neither the artist nor those writing about this work dwelt on his use of technology here. Although his medium is video, Sarkisian does not draw attention to it. Instead, he employs it imaginatively to create illusionistic scenes that invite careful attention and encourage contemplation.

--Emily Stamey
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Ulrich Museum of Art

1. Sarkisian interviewed by Margie Romero, Ticket, January 14, 1999: 16.
2. Sarkisian quoted in Valerie Loupe Olsen, Peter Sarkisian: Dusted, exh. cat. (Houston: Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2002), 9.

Peter Sarkisian (American, born 1965), 'Dusted,' 1998. Five-projection digital-video, plywood box, and audio track, 29 1/2 by 33 x 33 inches. Museum PurchaseArtofOurTimecatalogue,publishedin2010