Sarkis’s “İkiz/Twin”

Merve Ünsal

June 25, 2013
Galeri Mana, Istanbul
May 23–July 6, 2013

In Karaköy, Istanbul, down the hill from the ongoing peaceful protests near Taksim Square, Galeri Manâ has been open only intermittently for the last three weeks. Yet the elegant exhibition on view there since late May serves as a moment of silence (contrasted to the immediate surroundings) and as a tribute to the influential practice of Sarkis, the Paris-based artist (born in 1938), who goes by his first name. Merging architectural, historical, and artistic references with his personalized vocabulary of materials and gestures, his works resonate with urgency in light of the recent protests that have woken the city from its slumber.1 In the exhibition, there’s a video playing on a screen supine on the floor. It depicts the artist dripping candlewax into his palm, the corporeal coyly mingled with the spiritual here, reframing the gesture of opening up one’s palm with that of physical pain.

The context of the gallery is important: Sarkis employs the entirety of the former mill’s two floors, and his choice material is copper, whose reflective, warm, shiny surfaces are giving, inclusive, preventing the story from unraveling in a linear manner. Some works are even easy to miss: the copper chains, hanging from the ceiling to form an equilateral cross (For Sinan and The Copper Chain, both 2011), have become an architectural detail whose function remains mysterious albeit patently essential: weren’t they always there?

Mounted on copper plates, several photographs of masks, The Twelve Dead Masks (2012), are hung exaggeratedly high. The studio photograph aesthetic bears the weight of the exhibition’s own archaeology under layers of representation. The masks, you see, have been photographed on copper, and thus carry their own “twins” within the photograph itself. Furthermore, the copper plates in the reflected images are twinned in the copper plate mounting—creating, in effect, a ghostly presence beyond the representational two-dimensionality of photography.

The mask sculpture on the second floor embodies a duality—pinned to a corner, pinned to the ceiling, with two copper bars. It, too, resembles an architectural intervention. The legs, or rather the feet of the mask, come out of the eyes with violence. The eyes peer over us, subjective surveyors of the scene, yet the legs are rooted, and it is in this work that the viewer most acutely feels the tension woven throughout the exhibition between such banal architectural details (yes, floor and ceiling).

There is, however, one lonely work, located on the ground level, smack dab in the middle of the space. Its duality lies hidden, perhaps: a semi-permeable box placed on shipping pallets. Peeking inside, one sees that this box hosts its own packing material: the bubble-wrap unwound from its familiar cylinder form, self-conscious of its own existence, taking as its subject the objecthood of the work that cannot, will not, stay still. More obviously, one could interpret a duality in its material form—the throwaway packing plastic vs. the permanence of the copper lid.

My eyes wander up and down, and everything that I hear sounds akin to a caption or frame for the works, charged with meaning through my presence and participation, personalized through the connections that I form. The “museum-ization” of works (classified, organized, frozen) is the stuff of the actual exhibition here; Sarkis divides his works into groups of two that can be permutated infinitely, constructing duality and twinness between the viewer and the objects on view. And it is within this tentative yet somehow resistant relationship that Sarkis’s work feels most responsive to the city.


Some thoughts on the protests that have appeared elsewhere can be found at:

Architecture, Sculpture, Photography
Protests & Demonstrations

Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul. In her work she employs text and photography, possibly beyond their form.

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Galeri Mana
June 25, 2013

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