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 almost finished. 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 (born 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.
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 American composer John Cage (1912–1992) 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
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
Musical activities and more
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. To coincide
with the installation in the Submarine Wharf, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
will present a satellite exhibition of new work by Sarkis: an
interpretation in watercolour on ninety-six sheets of the score of
Ryoanji by John Cage.
From June a video about Sarkis can
be seen on the museum's online video channel: www.arttube.nl.
Sarkis Zabunyan was born in 1938 in
Istanbul. In 1964 he immigrated to Paris, where he began using only his
first name. 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.
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.
bicycles in this exhibition have been supplied by Union.
Image above: photo by Tot en met ontwerpen.