Sarkis : Light Years
I pay close attention to Sarkis's exhibitions but when confronted by one there's a question. I often ask myself: What is it that Sarkis's looking for?
The Pantheon's inner light ?
The sound of the Hagia Sophia's silence ?
The Selimiye's all-embracing space (exactly like body and soul) ?
There's a reason why all the examples I've just mentioned are chosen from among works of architecture : among all of the visual artists that I have ever known, I know of no other one that has such a close relationship with architecture.
Sarkis approaches a work of architecture (which, whether it be by Sinan or by Luis Kahn is a also a work of art) by touching it- by entering and moving around in it-as he endeavors to read it. And he endeavors to read it all over again and again.
There is nothing didactic at all in his interpretations. However we begin to see, to read, and even to experience such works in ways which we had not previously done and which-had there been no Sarkis and had he not looked at and reread them himself-we should never have done either.
It seems to me that these Sarkis readings are entirely spiritual in their nature. First and foremost he adds to the known three dimensions of a structure a fourth: the dimension of time.
There is no structure devoid of time.
Or perhaps... Perhaps it is time which gives structure its real meaning. (I said "meaning", which is something that goes far beyond "function".) Past time. No doubt about that. But at the same time-and perhaps even more importantly-the work's own time: the time which belongs to the work; the time which has continued and is continuing since the work came into being; the time which will continue to exist even after the structure itself has fallen down.
Extending from the past into our present, life casts its shadow on every day, on every moment: on stone, on metal, even on water that has no memory. It's not just works of architecture but all works that bear the imprint of life. This is why all objects are sources of inspiration for Sarkis. It has occurred to me (and I'm basing this statement on what the artist himself has told me) that Sarkis looks at Hagia Sophia or Selimiye with the same sense of "ecstasy" that Cézanne did when looking at Sainte Victoire.
But Cézanne set up his easel opposite Montagne Sainte-Victoire whereas Sarkis "gets into" Hagia Sophia or Selimiye in the true meaning of that phrase. Once inside, he wanders through time, breathing in the atmosphere as he searches the essence of time by ferreting through centuries.
In this way he incorporates time into the visual arts-the only form of art to which the concept of time is really alien. Space can never exist outside of time.
My mentioning the spirituality (much as I dislike that word, I'm using it in the sense with which Kandinsky attributes to the French word spiritualité) is not without reason. This is the spirituality that is harbored by the works of an artist who has replaced Time with God. I think that this should be clear enough. It is the spirituality of time.
As you've probably guessed, time-that most abstract of concepts-for Sarkis isn't an abstract concept at all. It is a thoroughly concrete concept: one that he searches for in spaces and objects, finds, and then renders visible. Perhaps that's because time also bears the scars of the torments that have been suffered.
View in the mind's eye Sarkis's famous Icons series. Look at each one, separately, over and over again, for minutes at a time. The spiritual dimension of these modern icons, which he imagined and produced for frames bearing the imprints of different cultures and beliefs from different countries does not arise solely from within the images: it arises also from the frames which surround them, which-if that is the proper term-shelter them within, which are parts of them. So much so indeed that it becomes impossible to speak separately about the frame and the icon. Isn't it so that the person selecting the frame and the person imagining an image-an icon-for it are one and the same.
I suppose that all of this artist's works could be gathered together under a single all-embracing title: Sarkis's History. Within that history there is, of course, history-which is to say, time; but there is also geography-which is to say a patch of soil, a homeland; and belonging to that time and to that geography there are also people. No, you didn't misread that. I said "people". And not just their images but their real lives that are reflected in spaces and in objects; spaces and objects which have permeated with their souls.
Did you see that piano in Sarkis's recent exhibition at Istanbul Modern? Do you know its story? If so then you must also know that it is only a memory that makes this piano different than just any piano. This is a piano that the artist saw in the hospital where his mother spent her last days. By importing this object into his exhibition, Sarkis also transferred this piece of information as well. Thus if you lack that information, than that piano is nothing more than some object or other. It's not an element of Sarkis's work. It has no meaning. Sarkis gives it this meaning through life. And that's because he believes that objects have a life too.
If you don't know what sounds or images are recorded on the tapes that he frequently makes use of, then neither will you ever discover what the work incorporating those means. In a physical sense, you will never be able to hear or see whatever it is that has been recorded on those tapes. If the knowledge of what is recorded tallies with your own knowledge and experience however, then there is also a chance of your communicating with the work that is in front of you.
I have no doubt but that there have been many writers who have stressed that Sarkis's work appeals more to one's memory and emotions than to one's eye. What I have done here-what I have tried to do-is not to interpret that work but rather to convey my emotions when reading-or even experiencing-that work. (I believe that vital concerns rather than aesthetic provide the impulse for the arrangement of Sarkis's exhibitions. This is why I say "emotions" rather than "thoughts".)
Every Sarkis exhibition is both born of a journey and unfolds as a journey. I am speaking here of a journey through time. By adding zeros to time, he makes time-which is already infinite-even more infinite. The zeros that he adds to "2009" transform the 21st century into the 21st millennium: that is, he takes us 20,000 years into the future and, by the same token, 20,000 years into the past as well. That is as appalling as denying time: within an undated and undatable time, a person may be overcome by a sense of infinite freedom but also by a sense of infinite emptiness and of infinite death.
What Sarkis destroys with his zeros is not time but rather history. By brandishing them before our eyes he wants to force us to see that the past is today and that the future is today too.
And that's why I say that Sarkis's journey can only be measured in light-years.