Turkish Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale


Artist: Sarkis

Curator: Defne Ayas

Commissioner: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts

Venue: Pavilion at Arsenale - Sale d’Armi 

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.”

The exhibition, titled “Respiro” (meaning “breath” in Italian), fills the Arsenale’s Sale d’Armi with multimedia works that use the universally-recognized symbol of a rainbow to explore concepts of transformation and shared human experience. Two large-scale, site-specific neon rainbows—made from fragile, wavering lines of color—light a series of 36 stained glass panes that depict imagery related to nature, spirituality, and the sublime. “In ‘Respiro,’” Sarkis explains, “I will be 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.” A meditative soundscape, arranged by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi and inspired by a drawing by Sarkis illustrating the colors of the rainbow as a “system of partitions,” will play over the installation, day and night.

Sarkis, born in 1938, is no stranger to large-scale, international art exhibitions. He took part in curator and artist Harald Szeemann’s well-known exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form,” originally staged at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969 and reenacted at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. He has also participated in Documenta VI (1977) and VII (1982) and 45th Venice Biennale (1993). On May 7, Sarkis will unveil two separate installations—one in Geneva (at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), one in Istanbul (at the Hrant Dink Foundation)—to complement his work in this year’s Biennale.

Explore the 56th Venice Biennale on Artsy.