Sarkis: Respiro, Turkish Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015

“Respiro”, an installation conceptual artist Sarkis, will be presented in the Pavilion of Turkey at the 56th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia. Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, the Pavilion of Turkey is curated by Defne Ayas, in the main venue of the biennale.

A prominent figure of the global art world with a career spanning more than five decades, Sarkis has been renowned for his oeuvre that embraces culturally diverse genealogies of art and history, and their innate relationship to memory and space. Through the arrangements of objects, images, thoughts, and codes that are released from both personal and collective memories, Sarkis will use the site of the pavilion as a theatrical stage for the cast of his works to investigate the ideas of infinite dialogue and transformation that lie at the core of his practice.

The exhibition titled Respiro, meaning breath in Italian, will present an installation of mirrors, stained-glass panes, and site-specific neon works, and will be complemented by a composition by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi, based on the artist’s drawing of the rainbow’s seven colors as a system of partitions.

Respiro, reaching out beyond geopolitics, to a more expansive context of a million plus years, going back to the creation of the universe and the beginning of time, back to the first-ever rainbow-the very first magical breaking point of light.

Instead of binding ourselves to specific instances within the histories of politics, religion, philosophy, and the arts, we will be embracing contemporaneity of both the present and the distant past in our continued attempt to defy stagnation.

Respiro undertaking opens up a space in which the potential of art will be reanimated. Against the current landscape of deep uncertainties, it is our intention to unfurl a proposition that reveals Sarkis’s profound concern for humanity. With and through his intense and perfectionist oeuvre-especially with his magnum opus in the making-and thanks to his rich arsenal of visual, architectural, and musical apparatus, respiro tune into hidden signals and frames encrypted in mediated images and visions; dig deeper into our contemporary lived experience; most likely hurt but also hopefully heal. The focus is the transformative power of art, as well as the timelessness and the timeliness of his oeuvre.

Sarkis Zabunyan, known simply as Sarkis, is a Turkish-born, Paris-based Armenian artist whose influential conceptual practice—grounded in social critique—has addressed such disparate subjects as the old wheat mills of Istanbul, the legacy of Joseph Beuys, and the materiality of candle wax. This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the devastating Armenian genocide, Turkey has invited Sarkis to be its representative at the Venice Biennale. He will commemorate the centennial, along with fellow artists of Armenian descent, at the Republic of Armenia’s national pavilion, but he maintains that his solo exhibition for Turkey, “is about something beyond history.”

Sarkis Zabunyan is an influential conceptual artist whose multidisciplinary practice has been pushing the boundaries of installation art since the 1960s. A graduate of the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Sarkis won the painting prize at the Biennale de Paris in 1964. He was invited to participate in influential curator Harald Szeemann’s 1969 exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form” at Kunsthalle Bern, re-presented as an updated version by Italian curator Germano Celant, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and German artist Thomas Demand, at the Fondazione Prada in Venice in 2013.

Born in Istanbul in 1938, Sarkis studied French, painting and interior design before moving to Paris in 1964. In 1967, he won the painting prize at the Biennale de Paris and presented his work Connaissez-vous Joseph Beuys ? at the Salon de Mai, in a reference to the man he considered the most important artist of the day. In 1969 he was invited by the critic and curator Harald Szeemann to take part in the now legendary show When Attitudes Become Form. Teaching and the sharing of experience are key concerns of this artist. From 1980 to 1990 he was director of the Art Department at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, and from 1988 to 1995 he ran a seminar at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques created by Pontus Hulten. Since the 1980s, Sarkis has taken part in numerous international exhibitions (including Documenta and the biennials in Venice, Sydney, Istanbul and Moscow) and had his work shown in the world’s leading museums.

In the exhibition Passages at the Pompidou Centre in 2010, works by Sarkis were allowed to dialogue with works by Kasimir Malevich, the wall from André Breton’s studio, and Plight by Joseph Beuys, who is one of Sarkis’s sources of inspiration, along with the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, one of whose films he explored in the Brancusi studio. Passages evoked both the permanent back-and-forth between an artist’s studio and the museum, and Walter Benjamin’s great unfinished work about the arcades of Paris. The exhibition featured a series of recent or specially created works produced by the Pompidou Centre. These works, standing as the artist’s KRIEGSSCHATZ (trophies), comprised found objects, art works and ethnographic objects from different civilizations.

In 2011 the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Geneva (MAMCO) devoted an important retrospective to the artist entitled Hôtel Sarkis. The presentation on four floors brought together 200 works created between 1971 and 2011, and explored the artist’s different practices (video and sound installations, watercolours, photographs, films) and thus amplified the resonance of a body of work produced in response to other artists, whether musicians, architects, writers, philosophers, painters, sculptors or filmmakers.

In 2012, Sarkis presented Ballads in the 5000 square metres of the underwater Hangars, at the invitation of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the Port of Rotterdam, as well as Ailleurs, Ici on the estate of Chaumont-sur-Loire, following a commission by the regional council of Centre. He has also taken part in the group show La Triennale – Intense Proximité at the Palais de Tokyo with his Frise des Trésors de Guerre, showed at Néon, who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue? at La Maison Rouge – Fondation Antoine de Galbert, and Istanbul Modern at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

In 2013, Sarkis took part in the exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, Bern 1969/Venice 2013 at the Prada Foundation as part of the 55th Venice Biennale. He also showed at Passages Croisés en or at the Château d’Angers, and was invited to present his Frise de Guerre at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania as part of the exhibition The Red Queen. Sarkis also participated in the exhibition Ici, Ailleurs as part of the Marseille – Provence, European Capital of Culture programme, and the exhibition Modernity? Perspectives from France and Turkey at the Istanbul Modern, and in his solo exhibition titled Sarkis – Cage/Ryoanji Interpretation at the ARTER – Space for Art in Istanbul. In 2014 he exhibited his Ring Portraits at the Huis Marseille Museum voor Fotografie in Amsterdam, and was presented in three places: the CIAC, the MNAC and the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. A solo exhibition devoted to his work appeared at the Musée du Château des Ducs de Wurtemberg in Montbéliard.

Venice Biennale 2015
The 2015 Art Biennale closes a sort of trilogy that began with the exhibition curated by Bice Curiger in 2011, Illuminations, and continued with the Encyclopedic Palace of Massimiliano Gioni (2013). With All The World’s Futures, La Biennale continues its research on useful references for making aesthetic judgments on contemporary art, a “critical” issue after the end of the avant-garde and “non-art” art.

Through the exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, La Biennale returns to observe the relationship between art and the development of human, social and political reality, in the pressing of external forces and phenomena: the ways in which, that is, the tensions of the external world solicit the sensitivities, the vital and expressive energies of the artists, their desires, the motions of the soul (their inner song ).

La Biennale di Venezia was founded in 1895. Paolo Baratta has been its President since 2008, and before that from 1998 to 2001. La Biennale, who stands at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organizes exhibitions, festivals and researches in all its specific sectors: Arts (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934). Its activities are documented at the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts (ASAC) that recently has been completely renovated.

The relationship with the local community has been strengthened through Educational activities and guided visits, with the participation of a growing number of schools from the Veneto region and beyond. This spreads the creativity on the new generation (3,000 teachers and 30,000 pupils involved in 2014). These activities have been supported by the Venice Chamber of Commerce. A cooperation with Universities and research institutes making special tours and stays at the exhibitions has also been establihed. In the three years from 2012-2014, 227 universities (79 Italian and 148 international) have joined the Biennale Sessions project.

In all sectors there have been more research and production opportunities addressed to the younger generation of artists, directly in contact with renowned teachers; this has become more systematic and continuous through the international project Biennale College, now running in the Dance, Theatre, Music, and Cinema sections.