The Istanbul Modern Team is at work. Forklift trucks bring objects to their places; billboard workers hang up huge photographs, others carefully unpack wooden boxes that have arrived from various museums around the world containing diverse works of the artist. They are all preparing the “largest exhibition of a living artist from Turkey ever to launched,” and Sarkis is everywhere at the same time.
Curator Levent Çalıkoğlu is concerned: “Sarkis is not an artist we can present chronologically. He has over five hundred exhibitions worldwide. What criteria should we apply? He is hard to cope with, placing many things beside each other, defined or undefined objects. And all of a sudden, they become parts of the exhibition.” The art historian Prof. Uwe Fleckner from Hamburg, an enthusiastic expert on Sarkis’ has a different approach concerning the situation: “What you see here is not an exhibition, but an opera.”
Sarkis was born in Istanbul and lives in Paris. While shooting this film, he led Hazar and his team to his parents’ apartment, which he had not only preserved but transformed into a “secret” gallery. Sarkis: “My father was a butcher here. We were financially well off. But I always had to work during the summer holidays. My first job as a 7-year-old was to pick up bent nails from my uncle’s shoemaker’s shop floor and straighten them. Throwing away bent nails was unimaginable in our family. It became a habit. That’s why some of the objects in this exhibition have been around for decades”.
Talimhane, the neighbourhood where Sarkis’ family lived, is very close to Istanbul’s Taksim Square and was populated by Turkey’s Armenian and Greek minorities until the 1970s.
Sarkis convinced the filming team to travel with him to Edirne, on the border with Bulgaria. Situated there is the Selimiye Mosque, the great work of Sinan. The Armenian architect of the Ottoman court had a significant influence in Sarkis’ work and vision.
On a day closed for tourists, he used the team’s technical equipment to record the inner sound of the Haghia Sophia Church in Istanbul for over 20 minutes. Afterwards, he broke the cassette, unrolled the loose tape, and created a “sculpture” on location in the Haghia Sofia. This work became another object of the actual exhibition in Istanbul Modern. The boundary between the film protagonist and the film team thus became void.
This film, available here with English subtitles, also tells the enchanting story of an old piano, which develops around the events during the death of the artist’s mother.
Nedim Hazar Bora
Istanbul Modern Museum for Contemporary Art