The Villa Empain invites us into two major imaginary worlds. We discover the intertwined works of a new breed of ethnographers in an exhibition designed by Sarkis himself. The spotlight is on the profiles of a filmmaker and a conceptual artist, who by salvaging objects, give meaning to the world in a poetic, personal and metaphorical manner. They are bound by common cultural affinities and origins. The selection of works is driven by Sarkis’s admiration for his elder, a choice all the more significant since this year marks the centenary of the Armenian tragedy.
Why Sarkis with Paradjanov? This very association is at the basis of the exhibition and gives it its full meaning. In the lobby, eight screens covered with precious kilims show extracts from the film Sayat Nova, shot in 1969 by Paradjanov and renamed The Colour of Pomegranates by Soviet censorship. It is his most personal work, his most complete and far-reaching achievement, a film which, because of its uniqueness, left its mark in the history of cinema. It is the biopic of an 18th-century Armenian poet who wrote in Armenian, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Arabic and Persian. Executed during the Persian invasion for refusing to renounce his Christian faith, Sayat Nova is considered a martyr by the Armenian people. Each scene, shot in a monastery, is presented in the form of a static, extraordinarily beautiful and expressive tableau. Framed in such a powerful way, the image eclipses the narrative. There is a scenography of expectation in every frame inspired by the illuminated miniatures and frescoes found in Armenian churches.
Paradjanov became an international celebrity after the release in 1965 of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (renamed Wild Horses of Fire for foreign distribution), based on a novel by Ukrainian writer Mikhail Kotsioubinski. Producing a film of a dazzling beauty, Paradjanov drew from the ethnic diversity of his native region. In this manifesto akin to sociological interpretation, he mixed social reality, folklore, traditions and legends. “Life is a window” was Paradjanov’s motto (1924-1990). He was fascinated by images, by creating a visual impact. His life and career path are not easy to summarise. Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, to Armenian parents, he started as a musician, and later became as much a visual artist as a filmmaker, continuing to create in spite of Soviet censorship and persecution. During his whole life, he remained fervently committed to his ideas, with obstinacy and perseverance. Even though he was sentenced to forced labour from 1973 to 1977, he never stopped creating art. Using materials found randomly in camps, he produced 800 paintings and collages in the surrealism repertoire. These little haberdasher’s windows offer a mixture of poetry, provocation and humour.
Born in 1938 in Istanbul into an Armenian family, Sarkis is known for his delicate metaphor-based artworks which are generally installations. Incidentally, this year, he represents Turkey at the Venice Biennale with his Respiro installation and is also involved in Armenity, the project winner of the Golden Lion. Talking about a bond between two countries, two cultures!
The works of Sarkis are deeply steeped in memory. They go back to the beginning of time. A bargain hunter, antique and curio dealer, he collects, hoards and composes. What better way to sweep through time and break down barriers! True to his favourite themes, he reinvents new dialogues between objects from entirely different times, going on tangents, back and forth between the mundane and the sacred. He manages to brilliantly misuse sacred objects or reliquaries, thus giving them a new place in time, in order to make them convey universal messages. Let’s pause in front of the ground floor showcase. With no pretention to be aesthetically pleasing, this treasure box brings together icons representing far-away brands. There is art in everything: a sculpture, a frame, a trinket, a perspective! Sarkis allows viewers to complement and interpret what they see. Elsewhere, he turns light into tangible neon letters spelling out the words of Gille Deleuze: A la limite du silence. His stained glass pieces are splendid, bringing eternity and the present together. Further on, we discover his love of watercolour, presented in antique frames.
In the tight weave of works exhibited, Sarkis truly shows how much he admires the genius that was Paradjanov, and pays tribute to him. These spaces, by the sheer size and splendour of the venue, steeped in History and stories, are a theatre where memory can be conjured up and which takes us elsewhere, to other places and times. Besides showing and introducing two artists, the merit of such an exhibition is to present the symbiosis of two poets, shown together, in such complete freedom and community of thought. We will conclude with a quote by Sarkis: “Fire starts because of the friction between things, and then time opens.”
Sarkis avec Paradjanov
Fondation Boghossian – Villa Empain
67 avenue Franklin Roosevelt
Until 10 January 2016
Tuesdays-Sundays, from 10:00h to 18:30