The Pavilion of Turkey at the
56th International Art Exhibition,
la Biennale di Venezia

Curator: Defne Ayas

9 May–22 November 2015
Sale d’Armi Nord, Arsenale, Venice
with additional messenger sites

Respiro, an installation by the influential conceptual artist Sarkis (b. 1938, Çaylak Sokak, Istanbul) is now on view in the Pavilion of Turkey at the 56th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Defne Ayas (Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art), the Pavilion of Turkey is organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), and is located at Sale d’Armi, Arsenale. The installation can be seen till 22 November 2015.

“In Respiro, I will be reaching out beyond geopolitics, to a more expansive context of a million plus years, going back to the creation of the universe and the beginning of time, back to the first-ever rainbow—the very first magical breaking point of light. Instead of binding ourselves to specific instances within the histories of politics, religion, philosophy, and the arts, we will be embracing contemporaneity of both the present and the distant past in our continued attempt to defy stagnation.” —Sarkis, 2015


Of all the works that Sarkis has produced to date, Respiro is personally the most challenging. Revealing his profound engagement with the concept of Kriegsschatz (the spoils of war) and acknowledging art historical canons such as The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, and The Tempest by Giorgione, the installation consists of two site-specific neon rainbows and two large-scale mirrors with fingerprints applied in watercolour by seven children—Abay, Anna, Aren, Helin, Karla, Claudia, and Linda. In addition, it brings together several of Sarkis’s iconic sculptures, including an altar made out of red glass cut to the exact size of the one surrounded by Caravaggio paintings in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

Thirty-six stained glass panes created with a medieval technique thread the installation. These illuminated panes feature images that encrypt pain, war, eros, and autobiography through a pictorial orchestra so as to point to a deft but subtle critique of humanity: the palm of a hand cups a flame, a seraph peeks through high on the wall of Hagia Sophia, Hrant Dink smiles against a background of pomegranates, a sleepy Sergei Parajanov gets caught off guard, and the Great Architect Sinan’s embrace of Mihrimah Sultan comes together with an image of Sarkis’s parents’ grave, just to name a few.

Respiro, meaning “breath” in Italian, is complemented by a musical composition by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi, which is based on the artist’s rendering of the rainbow’s seven colors as a system of partitions. The music is played day and night, together with the neon works breathing in and out for the duration of the exhibition. Respiro took its first breath on 3 April and became fully alive on 23 April 2015.

“Few artists have combined artistic ingenuity with such a subtle critique of history as deftly as Sarkis. This undertaking opens up a space in which the potential of art is reanimated. Against the current landscape of deep uncertainties, our intention is to unfurl a proposition that reveals Sarkis’s profound concern for humanity. With and through his intense and perfectionist oeuvre—especially with this magnum opus of his—and thanks to his rich arsenal of visual, architectural, and musical apparatus, we are able to tune into hidden signals and frames encrypted in mediated images and visions; dig deeper into our contemporary lived experience; most likely hurt but also hopefully heal. The focus is the transformative power of his art, and both the timelessness and the timeliness of his oeuvre.”—Defne Ayas, 2015


A new publication  accompanies the exhibition in Venice as one of the actors of Respiro. Conceived as a cross-referencing, it includes key essays by Defne Ayas, David Kazanjian, and Wendy Meryem Kural Shaw, with short image readings by Ruben Arevshatyan, Tûba Çandar, Rakel Dink, Özge Ersoy, Uwe Fleckner, Karin Karakaşlı, Aaron Schuster, and Jalal Toufic. Edited by Ayas and designed by APFEL (A Practice for Everyday Life, London), the volume is on view at Respiro, available at the Biennale bookstore and upon request from İKSV. The publication is dedicated to Elâ Tara, Ceyla, and Oscar—all born during the inception of this exhibition and publication.

Please click here to see the PDF version of the publication.


As a prelude to Respiro, Sarkis has gifted a site-specific work titled Altın İkona (Golden Icon) to the newly opened venue of the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul. The work is presented as a golden square, in the same scale as Sarkis’s stained glass of Hrant Dink’s photograph that is on view in Venice. As with Respiro, this intimate gesture is complemented by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi’s composition. In addition, a new video work by Ali Kazma, titled Atelier (2015) was premiered at the Hrant Dink Foundation on 7 May. In this video, which is part of his Resistance series, Kazma turns his camera to Sarkis’s studio in Paris—the current home of his artistic production, which spans over fifty years.

Six ‘messenger’ installations, in addition to Sarkis’s Respiro in Venice are simultaneously on view in Château d’Angers, Anger, France; Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, Chaumont-sur-Loire, France; Mamco, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Geneva, Switzerland; Musée du Château des ducs de Wurtemberg, Montbéliard, France; and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.


Sarkis (b. 1938), a graduate of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Istanbul, had his first exhibition at the Istanbul Art Gallery in 1960. A prominent figure of the global art scene, whose career spans more than five decades, Sarkis has worked with various  mediums, and has been, since the end of the 1960s, an icon of installation art in particular. His works have been exhibited worldwide in established institutions, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; Kunst-und-Ausstellungshalle, Bonn; The Louvre, Paris; Bode Museum, Berlin; and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Sarkis was part of When Attitudes  Become Form, Kunsthalle Bern, 1969; documenta VI and VII, Kassel, 1977 and 1982; and the biennials of Sydney, Shanghai,  São Paulo, Moscow,  and Istanbul. Most recently, Sarkis has had solo shows  at Galeri Manâ, Istanbul, 2013; ARTER, Istanbul, 2013; Museum Boijmans  Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2013; Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, 2014 and 2011; Mamco, Museum of Contemporary Art, Geneva, 2011; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2010; and Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, 2009. He has been living and working in Paris since 1964. Sarkis is represented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels.

Defne Ayas (b. 1976) is the director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and publisher of its online journal WdWReview. Since 2005, she has been a curator at Performa, the biennial of performance art in New York, where she remains a curator-at-large. Ayas co-founded Arthub Asia, an Asia-wide production and research initiative (2007–present), and Blind Dates Project, an artistic platform that “match-made"  artists and scholars to tackle what remains of the rupture of the Ottoman Empire.  In 2012, Ayas co-curated the 11th edition of the Baltic Triennial of International Art. Mother of Elâ Tara, Ayas is the co-curator of the 6th Moscow Biennale.


The Pavilion of Turkey
Sale d’Armi, Arsenale


İKSV Media Relations

Pickles PR:
Diana Babei:

Pavilion of Turkey Images:

National Media Coverage
11.05.2015, Radikal
11.05.2015, Star
11.05.2015, NTV
10.05.2015, Cumhuriyet
10.05.2015, Radikal
09.05.2015, Cumhuriyet
09.05.2015, Sabah
09.05.2015, Habertürk
09.05.2015, Milliyet
09.05.2015, Milliyet
09.05.2015, Posta
09.05.2015, Hürriyet
08.05.2015, Hürriyet
08.05.2015, Radikal
08.05.2015, Milliyet
08.05.2015, CNN Türk
07.05.2015, Cumhuriyet
07.05.2015, Sözcü
07.05.2015, Milliyet
01.05.2015, Milliyet Sanat
01.05.2015, Trendsetter İstanbul
01.03.2015, İstanbul Art News
01.03.2015, İstanbul Art News Chronicle
10.02.2015, CNN Türk – Afiş, TV programme
11.02.2015, NTV – Gece Gündüz TV programme
13.02.2015, Agos
15.02.2015, Hurriyet
16.02.2015, Radikal

International Media Coverage
11.05.2015, Kunstbeeld, The Netherlands
09.05.2015, BBC Turkish, UK
09.05.2015, La Repubblica, Italy
08.05.2015, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
07.05.2015, Le Monde, France
07.05.2015, Wallpaper, UK
06.05.2015, Le Quotidien de l’Art, France
06.05.2015, Art Review, UK
04.05.2015, Le Figaro, France
30.04.2015, Art Review, UK
26.04.2015, Kunstbeeld, The Netherlands
23.04.2015, The Independent, UK
22.04.2015, Art Presse, France
22.04.2015, The Art Newspaper, UK
Aralık 2014, Asian Art Newspaper, UK
02.11.2014, Artdaily, Mexico
07.08.2014, Libération, France
06.08.2014, Blouin Artinfo, UK
05.08.2014, Artforum, USA
05.08.2014, The Art Newspaper, UK
05.08.2014, Art Review, UK
05.08.2014, Artribune, Italy


İKSV International Projects



56th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale  di Venezia
9 May–22 November 2015

Defne Ayas

Assistant Curator
Özge Ersoy

Sound Composition
Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi

Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts

Pavilion of Turkey Advisory Committee
Zerrin İren Boynudelik, Lewis Johnsson, Ali Kazma, Burcu Pelvanoğlu, Cristiana Perrella

Bige Örer

Project Coordinator
Tuna Ortaylı Kazıcı

Project Assistant
Selen Erkal

Media Relations
Ayşe Bulutgil, Elif Obdan Gürkan, Özlem Bekiroğlu, Özge Özgüleryüz, Zeynep Seyhun

Corporate Identity and Publications
Didem Ermiş, Cüneyt Tabanoğlu, Merve Evirgen, Selin Pervan, Sezen Özgür

Marketing and Business Development
Tuba Tortop, Dilan Beyhan, Yıldız Lale Yıldırım, Lara Eram, Gülce Şahin, Sezer Kari, Bahar Helvacıoğlu, Özge Genç

Sponsorship Program
Yasemin Keretli Çavuşoğlu, Pelin Davidyan

Finance and Administration
Ahmet Balta, Ahmet Buruk, Hasan Alkaya, Başak Sucu Yıldız, Kadir Altoprak, Deniz Yılmaz

Communication Material Design
A Practice for Everyday Life, London

Eidotech GmbH, Neonlauro

International Press Agency
Pickles PR

Berge Arabian, Sibel Asna, Maimiti Cazalis, Haro Cümbüşyan & Bilge Öğüt-Cümbüşyan, Waner (Claudia) Chen, Cengiz Çandar, Aren Demirci, Karla Demirci, Delal Dink, Bülent Erkmen, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Annavaleria Guazzieri, Hrant Dink Vakfı, IIS Marco Polo – Liceo Artistico, Ali Kazma, Arusyak Koç, Narod Veronik Kuruğoğlu, Helin Menteşe, Eden Morfaux, André Morin, Linda Negro, Anna Orlandini, Özel Karagözyan Ermeni Ortaokulu, Cristina Pasqualotti, Raimondo Piaia, Luca Racchini, Stefano Rossi, Timothy Stroud, Abay Tekkol, Zeynep Taşkın, Aurélie Wacquant, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Kevork Yanar, Işıl Zabunyan