Le forgeron en masque de Sarkis rouge et vert . Hommage à Walter Benjamin, a performance by Sarkis next to Walter Benjamin's grave in Portbou on the 24th and 25th September 1993. The action, which lasted all night, was produced by the Musée d’Art Moderne in Céret. Catalogue available.
The action was conceived in 1987, when Sarkis was preparing an installation at the Musée Greuze, in the French town of Tournus. In one of the municipal warehouses there Sarkis found a bronze statue from the late nineteenth century representing a smith or ironworker, a sculpture that was to be the soul of his installation-homage to Walter Benjamin. Sarkis lit the face of the statue, on which he placed a mask of his own face, in red and green. The complementarity of these two colours annulled them, so that the spectator saw the face as dark, in other words black. The statue was installed on top of an open structure of wooden slats with neon lights inside it forming the 12 letters of the word Kriegsschatz. The open structure, according to Sarkis, was intended as a transposition of Walter Benjamin’s false grave in Portbou. Emulating Benjamin’s nomadic journey through different parts of France, the installation was exhibited at the Musée Greuze in Tournus (1987), the Chapelle de Notre Dame des Bonnes-Oeuvres in Autun (1989) and the Musée Antoine Wiertz in Brussels (1989). Finally, on the night of 24 to 25 September 1993, the neon lights forming the 12 letters were installed in the little chapel of the cemetery at Portbou.
Sarkis Zabunyan, known as Sarkis, was born in Istanbul in 1938 and has lived in France since 1962. The Armenian conceptual artist has been at the forefront of conceptual art in his country of origin. Committed to the recovery of the cultural past and collective memory, his highly lyrical and symbolic films, installations and actions have been seen in the U.S., Germany, India, Australia, China and Japan, among other places. With a political commitment that is never dissociated from the aesthetic and spiritual register, Sarkis engages in a very personal dialogue with the past.