A recent exhibition by internationally acclaimed artist Sarkis held a rainbow of neon lights, described as “Big Bangian insanity” by him, while allowing its visitors to ponder the process of creativity and recent social transformations in Turkey.
Located in İstanbul's Karaköy neighborhood, Galeri Mana opened the show, titled “Twins,” by Sarkis in May 2013. However, due to the Gezi Park protests across the country, the show had only a “partial life” since the venue was a hot spot for the heated demonstrations and the gallery couldn't open its doors as much as it had planned.
Then the gallery decided to re-open the show for a short period of time in September and asked Sarkis to create an additional work for the show. At that point, he decided to bring a rainbow to the venue that he has been in the process of making for around a year. The connotations of the rainbow symbol and a recent collective action of painting the grey steps across Turkey with rainbow colors as part of the ongoing Gezi Park events which started in May as a peaceful challenge by the public to some of the actions taken by the Turkish government, leads the viewer to look for links between the show and the protests, especially if she has observed events closely.
Although the artist has a positive attitude about the social aspects of the Gezi Park events, he emphasizes that his installation was neither a response to these events nor a descriptive work. “I decided to include an element of nature in the exhibition space. It is a very fresh one, so perhaps from this point of view, there might be a dialogue between this work and the Gezi process, but it is not a response to those developments. I have been thinking about this work for about a year now. Sometimes an artwork waits for 15 years to be realized in your mind. Something happens, and then you want to get it out. This one-year-old project can be seen as an answer to these very recent developments, but it is not done because of Gezi events, nor is it a descriptive work,” Sarkis explained in an interview with Sunday's Zaman.
According to Sarkis, some events can emerge unexpectedly at a moment in time. “Potential accumulates somewhere and at some point that potential gives birth to something. I love these kinds of situations. I was present at the student uprisings of May '68. It is a state of explosion and creativity like that,” he elaborated. Of course sometimes, serendipities can also emerge. For instance, three to four weeks after “The Rainbow” was installed in the gallery space, an engineer painted some of the grey steps in his neighborhood, İstanbul's Cihangir quarter, with rainbow colors, and after the Beyoğlu Municipality repainted them grey in the middle of the night, hundreds of people started to paint the steps and roads around their neighborhoods across Turkey.
“Being aware of things is important. You have a consciousness, I have a consciousness and we are aware of things. The fact that you and I are talking right now, you linking my artwork to the painting of steps with rainbow colors, is an example of the merging and converging of different consciousnesses. Of course, I am someone that wishes my works to give birth to a new consciousness. What happened at Gezi was uncalculated, like art itself. A time comes and it comes out. Like life,” Sarkis explained further. Also at the press release of the show, this work is described as carrying “a movement abandoning its predetermined pattern, and points to that which is yet to be imagined, a moment of birth in the course of history.”
Apart from “The Rainbow” located on the first floor of the gallery, the Sarkis exhibition featured a wide variety of artworks in different media. What made the show unique and also shaped its conceptual framework was that each floor of the gallery space was designed as a twin of the other. When the viewer visits the second floor, she gets the feeling that she just saw these works downstairs, although there are significant differences between them. “Taking inspiration from autobiographical elements as well as art history, literature, music and film, he emphasizes the historicity and performativity of objects and sites. Through the physical, historical and conceptual encounters he stages, the artist brings new life into fixed and frozen depositories of memory,” the press release of the exhibition commented on the show.
The political and social history of the Turkish Republic is full of brutal events that left the country with a collective “fixed and frozen memory” and deep polarization, as has become even more clear in the aftermath of the Gezi protests. One can find many traces of these frozen memories in Sarkis's show. Reading the following paragraph written for the exhibition catalogue by Nico Anklam in this context is a thought-provoking exercise:
“Here, bisecting the 'Twin' exhibition at Galeri Mana, is an invisible horizontal mirror that generates Sarkis's twins in the first place: the gallery's two floors. We encounter almost all of the objects twice -- once downstairs and once upstairs. We can never see both at the same time. So when we walk up or down the stairs, we continually alternate between spheres in which the things do resemble each other, but also repeatedly complement each other in new ways. Interestingly enough, the existence of one twin inevitably signifies that there must be one more. The twin always remains part of a genuine doubling, which actually legitimates its existence as a twin, in the sense of sharing the same birth.”
Turkish-Armenian contemporary artist Sarkis poses for a portrait at Galerist in İstanbul during his exhibition “Opus” in this March 9, 2010 photo. (Photo: Celil Kırnapçı, Sunday's Zaman)