“What are these pictures stuck up on the walls?”

Yazan: HaberVs

Piotr Zaręba
Sarkis, a world famous Turkish artist, thinks this would be the first question, people will ask about his new exhibition Site, open to visitors in Istanbul Modern gallery until January 10. “These are images captured from my past exhibitions held since 19’/70s at museums, contemporary art centers and galleries in different cities,” explains the artist.
Sarkis Zabunyan, known as Sarkis, is a Turkish-born Armenian artist. After studying at St. Michel French High School in Istanbul and making degree at Mimar Sinan University he won Paris Young Artists Biennale Prize in 1962 and moved to Paris. In his works of art Sarkis uses photography, installations, watercolor and video. He brings together art and cinema with the mystical traditions of the East.
Site is a retrospective exhibition of Sarkis’ last four decades of work. The most significant and dominating part of it are photographs of artist’s former exhibitions (shot by him) and other pictures (landscapes and portraits). They are placed in interiors of gallery like posters on walls in a city environment. “This is an expression – an act – that originates out of desire to blend museum and street with each other,” says Sarkis. Posters are perceived like something new, current, and Sarkis wants to transfer the feelings of his old exhibitions to the present and to give them a trait of newness. He finds them still alive and his aim is to meet all important stages of his career in one place. We can witness almost hundreds of photos selected by the artist from about twenty thousand images. Some of them are incomprehensible for many people, but according to Sarkis, the important thing is to be open-minded and create one’s own perception. “It is like collages in visual arts, like a plot in literature, like leaping from one place to another.”
Photographs are supplemented by thirty sculptures and installations. They were mostly part of exhibitions the photographs of which are shown on the walls. One of the most important objects is entitled, Gypsy Virgin Dancing In front of Sarkis’ Exhibitions. It is an installation containing stages of the artist’s art written out in colorful neon lights and statue of the excommunicated Virgin of the Gypsies spinning in front of them. It is an association of religion, entertainment and his personal experience. Religion is also a topic, which the artist copes with in few other sculptures. Other important motifs of Sarkis’s art are pain, trauma, war and violence (Sarajevo Bombed, K Between Two Ponds, The Interval Between the Sound of Thunder and the Flash of Light or Treasures of Pain). Characteristic feature in Sarkis’s pieces of art is visualization of sounds. Sometimes they are shown using the play of light and color (In the Beginning the 4 Sounds of Light, Upon Arrival), sometimes by shreds of recording tape that are the usual ingredients of the artist’s installations and sculptures, or even with lead drifting on the surface of water. “Molten lead dropped into water gives birth to organic forms. Looking at them, it’s as if I can hear the sound of the lead entering the water. This is my first work in which I departed from image and which I based instead on an association with sound,” says Sarkis.

Significant thing in whole exposition is also a dialogue between old and new. Some of the architectural elements, which are scattered randomly, are the same objects seen in old photos on the walls to show how they changed during years. Sarkis considers problems of life experience and passing away – especially with his 110 / minute, which is heard in whole exposition area, a metronome synchronized with artist’s own heartbeat in 1970. Many posters depict his face in different stages of his life. Mentioned Gypsy Virgin… is a kind of résumé of his artist’s life as well. Sarkis also answers the popular trend nowadays – to encourage the visitors to participate at the creation process. He left space for visitors, where they can leave their mark (something personal or a written sentence).
The basic thing in postmodernism is reinterpretation, quoting, rebuilding old ideas, putting past and new things together with the aim of changing their reception. This is exactly what Sarkis is doing with his legacy at Site exhibition. He created in Istanbul Modern form of city filled with evidences of his own past and plays with them trying to extract new sense from his old works of art.

11 September – 10 January, Site, İstanbul Museum of Modern Art

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