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April 15, 2004
Persistence of Vision

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Artist animates three-dimensional objects in real space and time
By Bethany Miller

A mouth opens wide in a scream and continues to open until the head turns inside out, exposing unwanted objects in the process. The head continues the progression until it returns to its initial state when the mouth widens in another scream.

This evolution is artist Gregory Barsamian's self-portrait, "The Scream." The sculpture reflects the human mind's cluttered state with all the unwanted information humans retain. The piece by the New York City-based artist is one of four kinetic sculptures featured in the exhibition, "Gregory Barsamian: Time and Tribulations," at Ohio University's Kennedy Museum of Art from April 16 through June 13.

Barsamian, whose work is included in collections around the world, creates the illusion of motion and metamorphosis as he animates his three-dimensional objects into narratives that evolve in real space and real time.

Gregory Barsamian on...
  • Visual narrative
  • Comparing with films
  • Influence of dreams
  • Bandwidth of consciousness

    Videos in Quicktime format

    Videos of his sculpture

  • Visit his Web site

  • "As a sculptor, being able to create a narrative and to add time to a stationary object is exciting," Barsamian says.

    Using the idea of the 19th century invention of the zoetrope, an automated flipbook and precursor to film, Barsamian utilizes strobe lights synchronized to objects mounted on rotating armatures to create series of rapidly changing images. And through the "persistence of vision," the human mind transforms the images into the illusion of motion. This idea of persistence of vision, he says, "is the basis of every time-based representative media."

    Each of Barsamian's works are inspired by his dreams, which he preserves through a recorder he keeps beside his bed at night. He edits the dreams heavily, looking for ones with universal appeal. He then adds his own thoughts and creates a narrative through sculpture.

    Barsamian says his interest in the subconscious stems from the book "The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size" by Tor Norretranders. The author deals with the limited ability of the conscious mind and the significant amount of information it constantly censors. Barsamian says humans have rich lives outside of consciousness, and these lives come out in dreams.

    "There's a mile-wide river flowing by," he says. "And consciousness only dips a finger here and there."

    Dreams also fascinate Barsamian because "deceit is unknown in the unconscious," he says. "We don't fool ourselves; we don't play games."

    After Barsamian has his dream-inspired idea, he fits it into a physical framework, which almost always transforms in the process of construction.

    "I have to be willing to throw away large chunks," Barsamian says. "It's a delicate process to animate properly."

    Barsamian frequently sculpts with clay from which he takes molds to cast in foam rubber. Other times, Barsamian uses different objects in their own states. Everything he sculpts, he has to do 16 or 32 times to accommodate the animation side of his work.

    His works of kinetic sculpture, a medium with which he has worked for 12 years, stem from his interests in animation, sculpture, machinery, dream psychology and philosophy. Barsamian earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin. For him, philosophy led to art as a search for meaning. Inspired by the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his idea that artists create their own realities and their own reason and being, Barsamian began to explore art, in which he had no prior experience. With art, he "slowly became enchanted."

    Barsamian's exhibition is organized in conjunction with Athens' 31st International Film + Video Festival. The Kennedy Museum of Art wanted to do something in partnership with the festival and selected Barsamian's work because of his connection with film and animation, says James Wyman, director of the Kennedy Museum of Art.

    "The film festival brings a large outside audience to Athens," Wyman says. "We want that audience to come to see this phenomenal work related to proto-cinematic devices.

    "The nature of his work touches on a lot of different interests and engages in the human experience. Anyone interested in film, animation, lighting, theory, sculpture or philosophy would enjoy his work."

    Besides "The Scream," Barsamian's exhibition includes three other sculptures. "No, Never Alone" involves figures and objects surrounding a stationary veiled and blinded figure, which is mocked for its intentional blindness. In "Lather," hands continuously drip soapsuds into a third eye of a sleeping head, but the suds turn into an empty paper bag before impact. "Postcards from the Fringe" deals with issues of political reality, entertainment and the environment in a parody of the never-ending variation of postcard art.

    The museum will hold a public reception following Barsamian's introduction of his exhibit at 5:30 p.m. on April 16.

    Bethany Miller is a writer for University Communications and Marketing


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