’Respiring’ in Venice

A total of 136 artists are exhibiting their works until Nov. 22 under 89 national pavilion flags, a fairly outdated institution, in the Venice Biennale under the main theme of the unrest of our time curated by the first African-born curator of the biennale, Okwui Enwezor.

There is now a Turkey pavilion in this renowned cultural and artistic event, which has been held since 1895. The spot was reserved in the Arsenale at the initiative of Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (iKSV) thanks to 120,000 euros contributed by 21 private supporters and was first used in the Architecture Biennale last year. The good news is that even if this is a national event, the pavilion is funded by non-state actors. Sarkis is a unique artist at the Turkey pavilion thanks to the exhibition “Respiro,” curated by Defne Ayas. The exhibition was simultaneously opened at the new location of the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul with a video recording by Ali Kazma and a handprint Sarkis created with everlasting gold. Sarkis officially represents his native Turkey but he represents much more than that. Sergei Parajanov, the most eclectic transnational Armenian artist Hrant, pictured with pomegranates, a symbol of abundance the lady in the red dress of the Gezi protests of May-June 2013 Istanbul’s colored stairs and many other stained-glass windows are “respiring” seven days of the week, 24 hours a day under two seven-color rainbows. They are respiring and living despite all present and past odds. The exhibition also runs at night time, in a way representing those who aren’t living anymore. These are great works that have the capacity to heal amnesiac Turkey. (To access the catalogue of Respiro, visit: http://issuu.com/respirobysarkis/docs/respiro_sarkis_publication) On Monday, CNN Turk aired a thought-provoking interview with Sarkis by Asli Oymen. The interview partially balances the shy-denialist documentary produced by Taha Akyol about 1914-1915. Let me now talk about the second place I visited, the Armenia pavilion, which was awarded the Golden Lion for best pavilion. Sarkis, who also exhibits there, is the main connection between the two pavilions. San Lazzaro degli Armeni, one of the most important centers of Armenian civilization in Western Europe, is hosting the artworks of Armenian artists from 18 different countries, including Armenia. The young artist Hera Buyuktaiciyan is the sole artist from Istanbul. Venice and San Lazzaro were the main bonds in Europe of Armenian civilization during the Ottoman era. For instance, the oldest Armenian printing house was launched in Venice in 1565 by Apkar Tibir from Tokat. The Mekhitarist Order located in San Lazzaro, founded by cleric Mikhitar from Sivas (1676-1749), produced many works in Armenian and other languages, including Ottoman Turkish. The number of books in Ottoman Turkish published in the Armenian alphabet by this publishing house comes to 70. This information is excerpted from a seminal work by Kevork Pamukciyan, titled quotErmeni Kaynaklarindan Tarihe Katkilarquot (Contributions to History from Armenian Sources) published by Aras Publishing House. Nina Katchadourian’s “Accent Elimination” video about Armenian Americans who struggle with the standard American accent “Streetlights of Memory” by Melik Ohanian — a project that never came through in Geneva under pressure from Ankara “Letters from Lost Paradise” by Hera Buyuktaiciyan, written in the Armenian alphabet, depicting Lord Byron’s desk, who learned Armenian on the island and Haig Ayvazian’s “Udi Hrant” work, which creates a sarcophagus out of a lute, are particularly interesting. There is an elegant coherence and consistence between the delicacy of the works and the mood of the 100th anniversary of the genocide: www.armenity.net In the limited time I dedicated to the Armenia and Turkey pavilions, I also noted a wooden vessel in the form of a paper ship, imagined in memoriam of those asylum-seekers who sink every day in the Mediterranean, and the videos on hearings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the South African pavilion. Last but not least, the Muslim community in Venice performed their Friday prayer in the Santa Maria della Misericordia “mosque” from the 12th century, transformed by Christoph Buchel. This happened in Italy, the land of pious Christians. Imagine this happening, say, in Turkey, the land of many empty mosques.