Born in 1938, Istanbul, Turkey – Lives in Paris, France
Sarkis’s versatile œuvre unearths its subjects from the archives of memory, the easily overlooked aspects of daily life, and the emotional and literal landscapes of his personal experience. The Paris-based artist en-visions himself as a “seismograph,” detecting the effects of history via its artifacts, which he imbues with new meaning. In 1998, Sarkis and Uwe Fleckner published The Treasure Chests of Mnemosyne: Selected Texts on Memory Theory from Plato to Derrida. In addition to contributing photographs to the anthology, Sarkis wrote in his and Fleckner’s introduction to the volume: “Every aspect of every event that has happened in the course of human history, all the pain as well as all the love, is ours. This is our greatest treasure […] And if one concretizes this [treasure] in art, if one renders it visible, tangible to experience, one can travel through these forms—opening rather than closing the doors to the past.” This consciousness of humanity’s rich heritage infuses Sarkis’s artistic œuvre—and affords viewers insight into the tension that underlies the structural and conceptual complexity of the walls the artist constructs.
Sarkis’s large wall on display for Intense Proximity—entitled La Frise des trésors de guerre [The Frieze of War Trophies] (2012)—is composed of layers of images and objects drawn from diverse cultural contexts. Connecting these discrepant materials is Sarkis’s conception of “Kriegsschatz,” or “war trophies,” designating those objects that have been torn from their native context in the course of expeditions or invasions, and which then end up in the collections of distant museums. Through combining these pilfered cultural artifacts, adulterated photos, and fraudulent replicas of stolen paintings into a monolithic structure, Sarkis renders visible both the distances that separate the items and the correspondences that connect them. Thus, Sarkis’s installation enacts a kind of justice—revealing the full range of each of these objects’ cultural, historical, and emotional significance. In both La frise des trésors de guerre and his œuvre as a whole, Sarkis manages to exhume portions of our “greatest treasure” that would otherwise have remained subsumed by worldhistorical events, politics, and the passage of time.