Exhibition Submarine Wharf almost open

Photo: Tot en met ontwerpen Construction ‘Ballads’ in the Submarine Wharf, photo Kuba Szutkowski Construction ‘Ballads’ in the Submarine Wharf, photo Kuba Szutkowski Construction ‘Ballads’ in the Submarine Wharf, photo Kuba Szutkowski Construction ‘Ballads’ in the Submarine Wharf, photo Kuba Szutkowski

Press release


2 June - 30 September 2012

The Submarine Wharf in Rotterdam’s docklands is currently undergoing a true transformation. The construction of the various monumental sculptures that make up Sarkis’ installation ‘Ballads’, commissioned by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Port of Rotterdam, is well under way. They include an 18-metre bell tower and a 16-meter lampshade in which a spotlight rises and falls to the rhythm of the artist’s breathing.

This summer the Submarine Wharf on the RDM Campus is presenting the installation ‘Ballads’ by Sarkis (1938). The building’s original function - submarines were once built here - and the surrounding water are central to the installation. Sarkis unites the building’s past and present, creating an extraordinary experience for the visitor with monumental objects, music and coloured films that filter the daylight like a modern variant of stained-glass windows. Sarkis is the third artist that Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Port of Rotterdam have invited to make an installation in the Submarine Wharf. The festive opening of ‘Ballads’ will take place on Saturday 2 June 2012.

Click here for more information about the press preview.

Water and air
“In ‘Ballads’ Sarkis attempts to create a connection between the dark depths of the water and the majestic expanse of thin air”, writes guest curator Nicolette Gast in the booklet that accompanies the exhibition. The carillon continuously plays the composition ‘Litany for the Whale’ by John Cage and takes the visitor on a journey into the realm where submarines and whales meet. The pendant to the monumental bell tower is the slender 16-meter-high lampshade covered with white down feathers. The Futuro, a futuristic holiday home, has come to land in the Submarine Wharf, forming an auditorium for Sarkis’ videos about water: experiments in form and colour.

The exhibition’s English title ‘Ballads’ - meaning a form of narrative verse or slow, romantic song - should not be taken too literally. The French verb ‘se balader’ means to go for a walk. Sarkis wants visitors to wander at leisure through the exhibition, accompanied by the music. Visitors can also explore the installation on one of the sixty bicycles arranged below the enormous lampshade.

Musical activities
Every Sunday there will be live music on the carillon by Frank Steijns and other musicians. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is organising a jazz concert, a carillon and organ concert, and carillon and piano concerts. On Saturdays the museum will conduct guided tours of the exhibition. In addition there will be a packed programme of activities and events, including combination tours of the RDM Campus, performances and much more. A video about Sarkis can be seen on the museum’s online video channel: www.arttube.nl.

The bicycles in this exhibition have been supplied by Union.

Potted biography Sarkis
Sarkis Zabunyan was born on 26 September 1938 in Istanbul, into a middle-class Armenian Apostolic family. He attended a French Christian secondary school and then studied interior design at the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts. Following a period of military service, he worked as an architectural draughtsman. In his spare time he made gouaches, which he exhibited from 1960.
In 1964 he and his wife, a philosophy student, immigrated to Paris, where he began using only his first name. Life in Paris was a revelation for him. In Turkey he had seen Western art only in the form of reproductions; museums exhibited only work by Turkish artists. But at that time Paris was the centre of the European art world and it also introduced him to European and American cinema.

War and violence have played an important role in Sarkis’ work for many years. Soon after he moved to Paris he made collages with crowds of soldiers and war scenes. This theme related not only to the escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, which gave rise to widespread protests in the West, but also to his own history. Because of his Armenian background, he had a complicated relationship with Turkey. The war theme continued to play an important part in Sarkis’ installations of the 1970s. In 1976 he coined the term ‘Kriegsschatz’, which can be translated as ‘war trophy’. The word was invented by Sarkis on the basis of the French term ‘trésor de guerre’. Sarkis has used this term to wage a battle against the museum system, in which cultural artefacts (many of them with religious or magical properties) are presented out of context as ‘beautiful’ objects. With his Kriegsschatz works Sarkis has established a clear position in relation to the art world.

From 1982 Sarkis worked with less gloomy themes, such as his personal mythology, time, memory and history. The artist began to feature in his work in a variety of ways: his name or that of his alter ego Captain Sarkis appeared in his titles and occasionally he added his own heartbeat or breathing as a rhythmic element, either visibly or audibly. The installations became more colourful. He transformed the space with coloured light (initially with the complementary colours, red and green). Over the years his fascination for sound and music also became more apparent.
Sarkis has exhibited internationally since the 1970s, including at the Venice Biennale, the Istanbul Biennial and Documenta in Kassel. He recently had a solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2010). Sarkis is currently participating in the Paris Triennale. His installation ‘La Frise des trésors de guerre’ (The Frieze of War Trophies) is on display at the Palais de Tokyo. Another installation by Sarkis can be seen at the Château de Chaumont- sur-Loire in France.

Submarine Wharf
The Submarine Wharf is a partnership between the Port of Rotterdam and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Every summer for five years a leading contemporary artist will make a large installation specially for the space. The wharf, built in 1937, is comparable in size to the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London. The first two exhibitions in the series were by Rotterdam-based Atelier Van Lieshout in 2010 and Scandinavian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset in 2011. The Submarine Wharf is one of the Port of Rotterdam’s initiatives to bring a wider public in contact with the harbour and to improve the quality and experience of the docklands. The Submarine Wharf is part of the former Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij (RDM) at Heijplaat. This piece of early-twentieth-century industrial heritage is currently being redeveloped as a centre for education, culture and innovative businesses.