The Istanbul-born, Paris-based artist is the first to show work in the nation’s new pavilion.

Turkish Pavilion at 56th Venice Biennale



Curator: Defne Ayas

9 May-22 November 2015
Pavilion in the Arsenale

The Turkish pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale will feature new work by Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis Zabunyan, better known as Sarkis.

Defne Ayas, the director and curator of theWitte de With Center for Contemporary Artin Rotterdam, will coordinate the presentation.

Sarkis will be the first artist to create an installation for the nation’s new pavilion in the Arsenale, after the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts inked a 20-year lease on the space in 2014. 

Through the arrangements of objects, images, thoughts, and codes that are released from both personal and collective memories, Sarkis will use the site of the pavilion as a theatrical stage for the cast of his works to investigate the ideas of infinite dialogue and transformation that lie at the core of his practice. The exhibition titled Respiro, meaning breath in Italian, will present an installation of mirrors, stained-glass panes, and site-specific neon works, and will be complemented by a composition by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi (b. 1971, Milan), based on the artist’s drawing of the rainbow’s seven colors as a system of partitions.

“In Respiro, 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,” explained Sarkis during a press meeting, where he also detailed the exhibition plans using a whiteboard and markers. “Instead of binding ourselves to specific instances within the histories of politics, religion, philosophy, and the arts, we will be embracing contemporaneity of both the present and the distant past in our continued attempt to defy stagnation.” 


A graduate of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Istanbul, Sarkis (b.1938, Istanbul) had his first exhibition at the Istanbul Art Gallery in 1960. Throughout his career, Sarkis has worked with various mediums, and has been, since the end of the 1960s, an icon of installation art in particular. His works have been exhibited worldwide in established art institutions, museums, and galleries, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris); the Guggenheim Museum (New York); the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Kunst-und-Ausstellungshalle (Bonn); the Louvre (Paris); the Bode Museum (Berlin); and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.

Sarkis was also part of When Attitudes Become Form: Works – Concepts – Processes – Situation – Information (Kunsthalle Bern, 1969), Documenta VI and VII (Kassel, 1977 and 1982), and the biennials of Sydney, Shanghai, São Paulo, Moscow, and Istanbul. Most recently, Sarkis has had solo shows at Galeri Manâ (Istanbul, 2013); ARTER (Istanbul, 2013); the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, 2012); Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, 2011 and 2014); MAMCO, Museum of Contemporary Art (Geneva, 2011); Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2010); and Istanbul Modern (2009). He has been living and working in Paris since 1964.

Defne Ayas

Defne Ayas is the Director and Curator at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. During her directorship, Witte de With commissioned Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists (with UCCA, Beijing, 2014); Moderation(s) (with Spring, Hong Kong, 2012-2014); The Humans by Alexandre Singh – and its monthly Causeries (2012–2013); Tulkus 1880 to 2018 by Paola Pivi (with Castello di Rivoli and Arthub Asia, 2013–2018) as well as the award-winning exhibition The Temptation of AA Bronson (2013). Prior to this appointment, Ayas  co-founded Arthub Asia, an Asia-wide production and research initiative, (2007–present), and Blind Dates Project, an artistic platform dedicated to tackling what remains of the people, places, and cultures that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Since 2005, she has been a curator at Performa, the biennial of performance art in New York, where she remains a curator-at-large. In September 2012, Ayas co-curated the 11th edition of the  Baltic Triennial of International Art. Ayas worked as the education and new media programs coordinator at the  New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York before attending the De Appel curatorial program in Amsterdam. She received her M.A. from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University in 2003,
and a B.A. in Foreign Affairs in 1999.

Image:Defne Ayas and Sarkis. Photo by Ali Güler. Courtesy Istanbul Fundation for Culture and Arts


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