1951) World's Leading Installation Artist Sarkis Comes To Istanbul Biennial For “Solidarity”

'Arguments lead to dead ends. The primary target of the Armenian Diaspora should be to bring prosperity to Armenia and to ensure reconciliation with its neighbors. Turkish and Armenian artists should produce shared projects in the 2009 Turkey year in France and carry the exhibition to Yerevan and Istanbul. Our aim should be peace and friendship. Art can attain this goal' . .

The International Istanbul Biennial will host a world-leading name in installation art, Sarkis (Zabunyan), an ethnic Armenian born in Istanbul who left Turkey in the 1960s and explains that his reason for attending the biennial is establishing “solidarity with Turkish artists.”

Drawing attention to the fact that debates over the Armenian issue will generally end in dead-lock, the artist says, “Our first aim should be to bring prosperity to Armenia and to ensure reconciliation with its neighbors.”

Having lived in France for many years, Sarkis is critical of the Armenian Diaspora's approach to Turkish-Armenian relations. Believing that Armenian and Turkish artists should jointly exhibit at every opportunity, Sarkis suggests that the two communities begin to prepare for France's 2009 Turkey year. “The Armenian-Turkish border is closed but art has no borders. Thought is free, it transcends borders, puts an end to animosities,” says the artist.

“I have exhibited my work around the world and I can do so in the future, but I do not care about this. I feel myself emotionally alone when I am not in Istanbul and Yerevan. Turkey and Armenia are like two houses that I find peace in.”

Art opens doors, breaks through borders

Though not on an official level, artists from Armenia and Turkey are carrying out conjoint works with some of Turkey's leading artists frequently holding workshops in Armenia and several Armenian artists have been invited to Turkey. Sarkis emphasizes that art is the only instrument that breaks through borders and enmity.

This will be the first year that the biennial hosts Armenian artists. The biennial's two prominent names this year are Sarkis and Canadian film director Atom Egoyan, both of Armenian origins. “Today all gates should be demolished and all borders should be eliminated,” says Sarkis. He adds that a great responsibility falls upon the artists of disputing countries, including artists from Armenia and Turkey, to help their societies find peace.

In an exhibition in Bordeaux in 2000, Sarkis built a 3,500 square meter installation of rugs and kilims of several disputing countries, including Armenia and Turkey, Israel and Palestine, and China and Tibet.

Foreseeing a debate over “whose culture is more artistic,” the artist displayed the culture's most original works near the installation turning the area into a space for conversation. “Rugs are ignorant of all borders, they are free of the state of belonging and complexes. They lie side by side in tranquility and peace. This is the world I dream of,” he says.

Exhibits at Istanbul Modern Museum and Santralistanbul are also featuring the artist's work at the same time as the biennial.

Architects Sinan and Louis Khan meet on a giant neon sign

Sarkis has built a gigantic neon sign that brings together the signatures of the two architects he admires most in the piece “Sinan Louis Khan.” The first of these two architects is the Ottoman Empire's most prominent Mimar Sinan, who built unparalleled edifices from the Balkans to Anatolia. The other is the American architect Louis Khan, who is regarded as one of the greatest architectural geniuses of the 20th century.

Sarkis explains this is the idea behind the gigantic “Sinan Louis Khan” neon light. “I go to the Selimiye Mosque as soon as I am in Turkey and converse with Sinan in my head. Then I bathe in his marvelous Turkish bath and wait for the first light of day to fill the space,” says Sarkis.

Praising the architectural work of Sinan and Louis Khan for its emotional earnestness, Sarkis says, “Baroque gives architectural orders. It is distant. I do not like borders and distances. Naturalness, earnestness, and having no state of belonging define my perception.”

He admires Louis Khan because the architect has done most of his work in poor countries. Khan's works in India are unparalleled. Defining the two architects that have lived 400 years apart from each other as “the architects that give birth to light,” Sarkis says, “They did not only create their buildings physically. They added light to the interiors with the infinite creativity in their souls.”

Pointing out that the popularity of the International Istanbul Biennial has increased throughout the world, Sarkis says this year's biennial expresses an opening up to the East. It is notable, he says, that this year's biennial is more open to the Middle East rather than focusing on Europe as it has in the past. He believes that Istanbul's location at the crossroads between Asia and Europe renders it an important center.

Intellectuals will have a word on Çaylak Street

Three works each from previous biennials chosen by the nine previous curators will be displayed in the fall at, “Highlights from 20 years of the International Istanbul Biennial,” which will be exhibited in Istanbul Modern Museum. Two of the pieces are works by Sarkis.

Sarkis also has a project named “Çaylak Street.” The place that he defines as “Çaylak Street” is actually the house in Istanbul's Şişli district that belongs to the artist's parents. Having preserved the furniture as it was during the time his parents lived in the house, Sarkis will build original installations in Çaylak Street and is planning to open the home for visitors.

“Çaylak Street is my shelter. I would not like to see this as a place that people can go in and out like in a museum. It should remain as a living location. Instead of going to a coffee shop, intellectuals can settle on the couches in Çaylak Street and have serious conversations. The concept of time and subjects of discussion are important in my street as there is no place for unnecessary talk,” says Sarkis. The only drink that Sarkis would like to see served in Çaylak Street is the sour-cherry liquor his mother used to prepare at home when he was a child.

Sarkis built an installation named “Çaylak Street” in 1986 and presented it in the Maçka Art Gallery and in France. The artist installed the furniture used in the 1989 France exhibition in Çaylak Street four years ago. The installation is the first modern exhibition that left Turkey only to return to Turkey later. “I did not want to sell this installation in Europe. It should absolutely have returned to its motherland, to where it belonged in Istanbul, to the Çaylak Street in the dream world,” says Sarkis.

September 8, 2007
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News


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