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'Respiro' by Sarkis on view in the Pavilion of Turkey
Bulent Eczacibasi, Defne Ayas, Sarkis, Arzu Colakoglu. Photo: Kirsten de Graaf.

VENICE.- Respiro, an installation by the influential conceptual artist Sarkis (b.1938, Çaylak Sokak, Istanbul) is now on view in the Pavilion of Turkey at the 56th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Defne Ayas (Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art), the Pavilion of Turkey is organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), and is located at Sale d’Armi, Arsenale. The installation can be seen till 22 November 2015.

Of all the work that Sarkis has produced to date, Respiro has been the most personally challenging for him.

Revealing his profound engagement with the concept of Kriegschatz (the spoils of war) and acknowledging art historical canons such as The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, and The Tempest by Giorgione, the installation consists of two site-specific neon rainbows and two large-scale mirrors with fingerprints applied in watercolour by seven children—Abay, Anna, Aren, Helin, Karla, Claudia and Linda. In addition, it brings together several of Sarkis’s iconic sculptures, including an altar made out of red glass cut to the exact size of the one surrounded by Caravaggio paintings in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Thirty-six stained glass panes created with a medieval technique thread the installation. These illuminated panes feature images that encrypt pain, war, eros, and autobiography through a pictorial orchestra so as to point to a deft but subtle critique of humanity: the palm of a hand cups a flame, a seraph peeks through high on the wall of Hagia Sophia, Hrant Dink smiles against a background of pomegranates, a sleepy Sergei Parajanov gets caught off guard, and the Great Architect Sinan’s embrace of Mihrimah Sultan comes together with an image of Sarkis’s parents’ grave, just to name a few.

Respiro, meaning “breath” in Italian, is complemented by a musical composition by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi, which is based on the artist’s rendering of the rainbow’s seven colors as a system of partitions. The music is played day and night, together with the neon works breathing in and out for the duration of the exhibition.

Respiro took its first breath on 3 April and became fully alive on 23 April 2015.

As a prelude to Respiro, Sarkis has gifted a site-specific work titled Altın Ikona (Golden Icon) to the newly opened venue of the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul. The work is presented as a golden square, in the same scale as Sarkis’s stained glass of Hrant Dink’s photograph that is on view in Venice. As with Respiro, this intimate gesture is complemented by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi’s composition. In addition, a new video work by Ali Kazma, titled Atelier (2015) was premiered at the Hrant Dink Foundation on 7 May. In this video, which is part of his Resistance series, Kazma turns his camera to Sarkis’s studio in Paris—the current home of his artistic production, which spans over fifty years.

Five ‘messenger’ installations, in addition to Sarkis’s Respiro in Venice and Golden Icon at Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul, are simultaneously on view in Château d’Angers, Angers, France; Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, Chaumont-sur-Loire, France; Mamco, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Geneva, Switzerland; Musée du Château des ducs de Wurtemberg, Montbéliard, France; and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The exhibition in the Pavilion of Turkey at la Biennale di Venezia is curated by Defne Ayas (Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art), and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV). It is located at Sale d’Armi, Arsenale, in the main venue of the Biennale. The exhibition is sponsored by Fiat, with the production support of SAHA Association. The Pavilion of Turkey, a dedicated long-term venue at the Arsenale, is an initiative of İKSV, also supported by the generous contributions of 21 sponsors.

Sarkis (b. 1938), a graduate of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Istanbul, had his first exhibition at the Istanbul Art Gallery in 1960. A prominent figure of the global art scene, whose career spans more than five decades, Sarkis has worked with various mediums, and has been, since the end of the 1960s, an icon of installation art in particular. His works have been exhibited worldwide in established institutions, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; Kunst-und-Ausstellungshalle, Bonn; The Louvre, Paris; Bode Museum, Berlin; and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Sarkis was part of When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle Bern, 1969; documenta VI and VII, Kassel, 1977 and 1982; and the biennials of Sydney, Shanghai, São Paulo, Moscow, and Istanbul. Most recently, Sarkis has had solo shows at Galeri Manâ, Istanbul, 2013; ARTER, Istanbul, 2013; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2013; Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, 2014 and 2011; Mamco, Museum of Contemporary Art, Geneva, 2011; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2010; and Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, 2009. He has been living and working in Paris since 1964. Sarkis is represented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels.

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