Born in 1938 in Istanbul (TR)
Lives and works in Paris (FR)

L'arrivée des images

Wood, coloured filters, spots
Dimensions variables
Year of Purchase: 1996

In his 1972 article, “Cultural Confinement,” 1 Robert Smithson described museums and galleries as places where a work undergoes “aesthetic convalescence,” having lost its “charge, and become[ ] a portable object.” This realization made Smithson remove his art from museums in order to utilize a more open, less enclosed space; nature. Other artists, rather than repositioning art in new locations, had chosen to challenge the conditions of exhibition production from the inside by offering specific alternatives. This is the case of Sarkis who, since the 1970s, has been developing a body of work in which the exhibition itself becomes a sort of metaphorical space, located somewhere between the stage, the atelier, the church, and the tour. Rooted in memory, his work combines a history of the place with personal memories, thereby outlining a theatrical space where the universal merges with the singular.

In a 1967 lecture, 2 Michel Foucault defined the term “heterotopia” as those floating spaces which paradoxically comprise and oppose their functional typology, a kind of “counter location,” which, as opposed to the idea of utopia (an ideal location without a place), accurately describes a large part of Sarkis’s work. “Heterotopia,” writes Foucault, “is capable of juxtaposing in a single place several spaces, several locations which are in themselves incompatible.”

L’arrivée des images (The emergence of images) shown by Sarkis in 1995 at the Buvignier Chapel in Verdun corresponds to that definition. If, on the occasion, the artist renounced traditional exhibition space, just as he had done in 1983–84 with the famous À Pierre et Marie, une exposition en travaux (To Pierre and Marie, an exhibition under construction), 3 he nevertheless managed to infuse his project with a sort of contextual indistinguishability between the place of prayer and the exhibition space. On ten wooden tables there were placed ten fragile aquarelles, their pure color blending with the light filtered through window structures with colored panes. Arranged in the nave and in the choir of the chapel, every table appeared as a sort of altar that had exchanged its liturgical function to become an object commemorating some unknown thing. The staging of works (rather than displaying them, since it’s a question of programmed theatricality) endows them with a mysterious power calling for the contemplation of images. The work thus becomes indistinguishable from the exhibition which, in turn, blends together its own function with that of a chapel, even as it surpasses the latter. The result is an indefinite, fluctuating, polymorphous space that unfolds definitively as a heterotopia. For the artist, light (the immaterial, versatile element par excellence) constitutes the principal material of his works. Referring to the green, red, yellow, and blue lights in his play I Love my Lulu (1984), Sarkis said that they were to provoke a “feeling of caress,” and that it was precisely that feeling that emerged vis-à-vis this installation when beams of light passed through color filters of the windows and brushed over the aquarelles. “One light added to another creates a third light, etc. Light cannot stand still,” 4 it creates a vital vibration which, without any other artifice, makes the image emerge. But isn’t it the function of an exhibition to allow for the “emergence of images”?

Guillaume Mansart

1 Robert Smithson, “Cultural Confinement,” Artforum (October 1972), p. 39.

2 Michel Foucault, Conference at the Cercle d’études architecturales, March 14, 1967, transcribed as “Des Espaces autres” in: Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité no. 5 (October 1984), pp. 46–49; reprinted in Dits et Écrits (coll. Quarto, Paris: Gallimard, 2001), vol. II.

3 Sarkis, quoted in “Lexique Sarkis,” a response to a proposition by Christian Bernard, in art press no. 222 (March 1997), pp. 40–46.

4 Sarkis, quoted in “Lexique Sarkis,” a response to a proposition by Christian Bernard, in art press no. 222 (March 1997), pp. 40–46.