Ararat Sarkissian is more concerned about the retention of experience, of identity and of memory. He wants to preserve something of value after the dust has settled, ‘For me,’ he writes, ‘the human experience, amassed during the course of thousands of years, is tremendously important.’ He implies that when we lose our memory –of where we came from, of who we are, and of our purpose, we become worthless objects susceptible to possession by negative forces. Sarkissian’s work, post modern, conceptual, and abstract in part, makes reference to ancient cultures, and not only to the important medieval tradition of Armenian illuminated manuscripts, but also to the wider art of medieval and renaissance Europe.
Having survived a major obliteration of collective memory, the 1988 earthquake which destroyed his beloved city of Gyumri, Sarkissian tries preserve and evoke a vanished past, in that hope that it may illuminate our future. Gurdjieff, part heroic man of action, part mystic teacher, was also a native of Gyumri, and one of the most enigmatic men of this century.
His whole evolutionary psychology was based on the premise that we are all asleep, and a true waking consciousness must be developed through self-remembering. Sarkissian’s most lyrical work is about preserving memory, so that it may guide us in the process of rebuilding and rebirth.
Garo Keheyan, Stream of Fire: New Art From Armenia 1995, Pharos Publishers
What is critical about the work of a new generation of post-Soviet Armenian artists is the negotiation of regional and global inflection in terms of both cultural-conceptual posturing and visual language. The work of Ararat Sarkissian encapsulates the dialogue between cultural specificity and a more globalist logic. Features in an international group exhibition of artists from over twelve countries titled Multitude at Artists Space,
Sarkissian’s painting, video and print projects navigate questions of local legibility and international address. His Archetypes , a series
of prints reiterating the alphabets of dead and lost languages, is complemented by a video of the same name. Art historian Irene Small maintains, “In the paper-works, the embedded alphabets retain the material memory of the impressing form, yet are completely divorced from their original signification. In the video, meanwhile, the echoing overlay of the recited alphabets functions as a formal exercise of sound alienated from history. The utterances stammer towards languages…. Stripped of context until they become pure aesthetic representation: abstracted, tactile form and meaningless noise. “The questions
of cultural memory and translation are the center of Sarkissian’s project, in the line with his contemporaries- whose works are now undergoing a new series of transactions – circulation, travel, exhibition, interpretation as the origins of natural history and culture introduced to international audience.
Curator of the Artists Space in New York and Ph.D candidate in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University