It's hard to be passive about video art. It engulfs you; it engages your eyes and ears. Because it unfolds over time, it challenges your senses over and over.
Three contemporary video art works are on view at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University --Ascension" by video art pioneer Bill Viola; Gymnopedies by up-and-coming artist team Bull.Miletic; and Dusted by Peter Sarkisian, first unveiled at the museum in January 2003.
Each is shown in separate, darkened galleries; each is several minutes long and repeats over and over, allowing for long contemplation.
"You are enveloped in a space; you have this sort of one-on-one connection that you rarely have with two-dimensional objects on a wall," said Elizabeth Dunbar, chief curator at the Ulrich. "With video installation, just by the nature of the medium, you are walking into it. You are part of the piece by your very presence."
The videos also pull you in because each unfolds slowly.
"Ascension" shows a man's slow-motion plunge into a swimming pool. "Dusted" shows a man and a women wiping away soot from the inside of a lighted box as a hypnotic voice recites names.
Gymnopedies features slow-motion footage of a rodeo set to simple piano music by Erik Satie. Artists Synne Bull and Dragan Miletic created it in 2001, shortly after they arrived in San Francisco from Europe.
"We shot the entire event in documentary fashion," Bull and Miletic wrote in an e-mail. "Later on, when looking at the footage over and over in our studio, we discovered an ambiguous coordination between animal and human. By slowing the footage down, removing the color and heightening the contrast, we wanted to emphasize this ambiguity and to remove the rodeo from its contemporary context."
Western-style filigree frames the images throughout the video's three parts, reinforcing an "old-timey" feeling.
"Erik Satie's famous variations completed the picture," the artists wrote, "and the whole event became a dreamlike ballet performance with monumental characters."
The familiar bucking and flailing of the rodeo has an alien feel in the video.
"By slowing it down, we have to look at it differently," Dunbar said. "We have to suspend our everyday reality and enter a different reality.
"That is what is so compelling about these video works. They force us to let go of the external world."