SARKIS – The Aesthetic Value Of Recollections

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Remembering is restaging that which is the memory, in front of emotions. However, as a result of each staging, the event that is remembered is no longer a repetition of that event; it is reproduced as a different state. In other words, no memories are the same as their source, the lived experience. It becomes a different reality, although it carries a slight resemblance. A remembrance transforms into a possibility for a different experience that has its own temporal and spatial singularity, each time it is remembered. Studies carried out especially in neurophysiology and neuropsychology demonstrate that this experience is a physical reality and significant findings have already been obtained. This essay aims to establish a contemporary aesthetic sensibility by associating works of other artists (Proustian literature, Arvo Part music, etc.) Sarkis where necessary.

If memory was only a storage device and recollections from here were cataloged data, they would be remembered completely independent from the conditions of the environment they are recalled from, unaffected, neither changed nor augmented or impoverished. Furthermore, a recollection is different from the sudden remembrance of what was once forgotten. If we consider functional differences between the terms “recall” and “remember” in English, recalling that which was never forgotten due to a reason for duplication (desire) is indeed persistence of its existence in the body it has been embodying continuously, as part of a sensation since its origin. As a limb, such as a hand or an ear, ages and changes, in harmony with the body, all recollections in the memory present continuity. A recollection is no longer the original experience; it is the coexistence of events incorporating everything that touches upon that experience. The works of Sarkis harbor possibilities that may be considered in this context. From this perspective, Deleuze acknowledges singularity as individuals consisting of intersection of events as well. In other words, these intersections are indeed intersections of experiences recreated as other events, thanks to the possibilities offered by the memory. Thus, recollections are now new and completely different events that establish their own actuality in combination with the current actual existence of events, rather than accomplished and finished, dull, dead pieces of history. Ali Akay notes the following about Sarkis:

“He presents the hints that the question of how to construct a museum can build on, by preserving the virility of the museum at the expense of its operating structure by dividing the energy it embodies, the idea of a museum can start off from the energy derived from heating each other up, rubbing up against one another rather than freezing, displaying historical archives, saving the old.”

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Sarkis has embedded the energies of objects instead of the objects themselves, and the interactions between these energies as unified spaces instead of homogeneous spaces in his works, thus presenting a productive

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ambiguity. Object fetishism of Sarkis or his style which avoids being an object warehouse, his focus on the traces of objects in the memory (as icons) instead of the objects (and their physical immanence) themselves, is indicative of this understanding. The actualized duplicate existence of that which is in the memory translates into an aesthetic remembrance. What kind of an aestheticization is this? It is not aesthetics in its most commonly used meaning, but in the sense of beauty perceived or determined through the senses as a science; aesthetics which fill in the void between the shift, the non-coincidence, and the failure to coincide, even the Parallax within the context of Zizek, between the tangible world – the world here and the now – and intangible world – the world envisioned and presented as utopias within that envisioning, in other words the the world that has to be.

To put it more clearly, as Emre Zeytinoğlu often highlights post-modern aesthetics are located within productions that fill in the void created as a result of the discord between utopias signaling the promised future and the practical (experienced) reality of that world which is already here, happening now. It may be argued that such a shift occurs at the same time between memory and experienced actuality. If a remembrance is recalled from the memory into experienced reality, it will be reconstructed there as an aesthetic structure and differentiate from its origin. The mind will reconstruct itself as aesthetics under the conditions of the current experience. It will try to complement itself in a way that is compatible with its own story. In this context, here we have a Sarkis who can be associated with Proust.

As Jonah Lehrer states in his book, “Proust was a Neuroscientist”, Proust thought that all of our remembrances were fictions reconstructed by the memory.

“Our struggle to recover our remembrances is futile, all that mental effort is useless…” Why does Proust think that the past is so elusive? Why is the endeavor to remember “futile”?

These questions take us to the core of Proust’s concept of memory. To put it simply, Proust believed that our memories were fictional. Although we feel them to be real, memories are nothing but finely fabricated lies. Let’s consider the cake example. Proust noticed that we start to distort the memory of the cake to suit our personal story, from the moment we finish eating it and leave the crumbs on the plate. We bend and twist the truth to make it fit into our story, “we reprocess experience with our intelligence.” Proust warns us that we should handle the authenticity of our memories more carefully and more sceptically.

Even within the text, the Proustian narrator constantly changes the descriptions of things and people, especially of his lover Albertine that he remembers. The sign of Albertine’s beauty shifts from her chin to her lip, and from her lip to her cheekbone right below her eye as the novel progresses. In another novel, this would have been seen as a random detail error. However, “In the Lost Time, the lesson the novel wants to deliver is that memories are inconsistent and faulty. Proust wants us to know that we can never know where the sign of Albertine’s beauty is located in reality. In a letter to Jacques Riviére, he writes that “I am compelled to portray mistakes without having to feel the obligation of saying that I see mistakes as mistakes.” Because every memory is full of mistakes, there is no sense in keeping a track of this as one keeps a list.”

Theatral Space

The remembrance that comes from the memory is deficient in terms of its compatibility with the actual. For this reason, when this remembrance is updated for subjective complementation (as an effort to fill in the void due to shifts), it becomes the actual incorporating the aesthetic aspect. Such a remembrance contains the iconographic references of objects, rather than their idolized constructions. Recollections transform into a drama and they are staged as intertwined with actuality and physical reality of today. Indeed, the spatial-temporal reflection can be observed in the evolution of the stage or the theater. As Elvan Zabunyan notes in her essay on Sarkis, “An important development took place in theater in 1530: The dimensions of the stage changed and to utilize the depth of the stage with the transition from the concept of surface to the concept of volume. Also in 16th century, the stage became an independent space, something beyond a platform within a room. This independent space also brought about a new perspective for the theater play.”

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This independent box-stage, also known as the stage of Renaissance, demarcated the drama and the actors/actresses from the audience as the viewer and the viewed, and did not let the two world permeate into each other. Here, the stage formed the space and the boundaries of the drama, akin to the frame of the canvas or the pedestal of the sculpture. However, similar to the sculpture breaking free from its pedestal or theater capable of freeing itself from the determinism of the painture stage, and even artistic practice breaking itself loose from the boundaries set by the white cube gallery, the work blends into the public space, the actual. Where does a work start and end? Where does the everyday life and objects or artistic performance and objects start and end? Memories that are no longer a play staged through the medium of all these memories are like similar to a coming into existence in the actuality of now. Therefore, staging involves the blurring of the boundary between the viewer and the viewed within the flow of all the vital fluidity. In an interview he gave to Evrim Altuğ, Sarkis says the following:

“Yes. There are no actors in my works; the figures I create are the actors. Clothes, photographs, films, lights… Therefore you shape a person the moment he or she enters through the door. This is similar to entering a poem.”

Sarkis acknowledges space as a phenomenological space. In other words, a sensation, a space bent and twisted with the possibilities of subjective experiences. And again, it can be interpreted, in a similar fashion to what Proust thinks about the memory: subjective, bent and twisted according to the reality of the actual experience, a personalized space. In this space, the works of Sarkis are bent and twisted through space and they discover their own reality in the actual, as they are interpreted subjectively, blending into space… Works of art contained by and containing space (to put it with Deleuzian expression, as dual captures indicating an infinite loop) and spaces where such works are exhibited are not frozen or fixed; they are constantly living with a potential that will be actualized in the obscurity the future holds. In the artistic experiences of Sarkis, works are intertwined with spaces and constantly interpreted through a memory, presenting an experience of the aesthetic flow that is generated ad infinitum and questioned with an inductive need for completion.

“The first staging of Sarkis was the Night and Day Dream of the Wall Painter; a loudspeaker was placed on a revolving pedestal in the middle of an “arena”, comprising one part of this installation; this section was part of one of the night acts. In this case, the stage itself can be perceived as a pedestal. In the 1970s, Sarkis reversed the concept of the pedestal which serves as a complementary part of the whole or allows the work to displace itself as a portable support. In Wheelchairs – A memory and seven wheels (1970) – colored stools or – landing field, wheeled platforms, which are clear allusions to small theater stages, carrying the work, transform into a work of art themselves. And sometimes – the whole exhibition space was conceived as the stage; the pedestal of the installation exhibited at Magiciens de la Terre was also the reconstructed gallery space. This “recreation” was a wooden stage-plank one could walk around. In Istanbul, we were in space. In Paris, we are around it. The perspective of the viewer is different; by displacing his work, Sarkis addresses consciousness of the potential viewer before everything else, by questioning the act of re-exhibiting an installation and thus opens up the subject of interpretation into debate. The question of interpretation which has been at the center of his works for years, theater, music and other works of art interpret a role (which falls under the expertise of the actor(ess) who interpret a role)yet retain their form, but they can be conditioned in a new space, and be interpreted by an artist while maintaining their singularity.

…The desire of Sarkis to interpret his works while displacing them leads to the creation of a theatrical condition. He constructs his exhibition by visualizing space in this way.”

Sarkis diminishes the borderline separating space and his works, making it permeable and removing it in his works of art. The best shortcut to approach him is to consider his works as a total of intensity instead of addressing them separately one by one.

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