HRAIR SARKISSIANHorizon, 2016 Two-channel video installation: 6 min 58 sec. Photo by Christopher Baaklini. Courtesy the artist and Kalfayan Galleries, Athens/Thessaloniki. 


Hrair Sarkissian

Syria Armenia Lebanon
Also available in:  Chinese

Set on the ground floor of the beautiful Sursock Museum in Ashrafieh, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Beirut, two video installations documented moments of transition in relation to the ongoing war in Syria. With the same attention to detail and innate sense of space that comes through in his photographic works, Damascus-born Armenian artist Hrair Sarkissian indirectly represents the destruction of lives and the difficulties of starting anew through videos that depict, on the one hand, the crumbling of his home in Damascus and, on the other, the path taken by refugees fleeing to a Greek island. 

The two-channel Homesick (2014) is Sarkissian’s first video creation, and showcases the imagined bombing of his family abode in Damascus. “I wanted to do a work on our home, and the fear of losing this home which my parents refuse to leave,” the artist explained to me. As it was impossible for him to return to the Syrian capital, he asked his father—one of the first people to open a photographic studio in Damascus in the 1970s—to photograph the facade. Working with an architect in Amman, Sarkissian spent approximately two months building a model replica that was roughly two meters high. With a central staircase flanked by two apartments on each floor, as well as curtains and railings, the building’s imitation is eerily lifelike.

One of Homesick’s two projections is an 11-minute video of the miniature building’s demolition involving 650 shots, devoid of sound and in various stages of damage leading up to a pile of rubble. In the second video, which runs for seven minutes with sound, Sarkissian takes a sledgehammer to the replica, which sits off-screen. The artist’s general expression is that of anger, frustration and finally fatigue—over several hours, he painstakingly destroyed the miniature version of his childhood home. Sarkissian remains haunted with fears about the building, which he lived in until his departure from Damascus in 2003 to study at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles. Ironically, the house is across the street from the Russian embassy—a highly protected area, but also a strategic target—leading to attacks nearby, including bombings of schools and private lodgings. Since Sarkissian recorded the video, his family’s residence has been hit four times.

The other video installation, Horizon (2016), was filmed over several months immediately after the Turkish coup d’état attempt. It depicts part of a popular route taken by refugees fleeing Syria, from Kaş on the southwestern Turkish coastline, across a two-kilometer strait, to the Greek island of Megisti (otherwise known as Kastellorizo) in southeastern Greece. Panning bird’s-eye views of the Turkish coast, the vast expanse of the ocean, then the craggy Greek island, are projected onto an elevated platform, complemented by a second, synchronized projection showing a slow zoom into Megisti on the opposite wall. For Horizon, Sarkissian used a drone to document the 1.2 km passage, recording no human activity save for the passing of a Greek guard boat that crosses the screen, leaving a flurry of white waves in its wake. While the sea represents a great danger for migrants, the artist also emphasizes the uncertainty of the approaching horizon: the final destination, or the rocky cliffs of the Greek island, is just as terrifying as the journey. “The land is not their savior,” Sarkissian explains. “There is no horizon, there is no clear future.”

This highly personal testimony is both powerful and restrained, in that Sarkissian stops short of showing any people or human suffering in his images and work. Both the notion of destroying a family home or the representation of migrant flights across the sea are themes that we can relate to, but Sarkissian takes us beyond the moment of transit to reflect on the finality: the controlled razing of a familiar residence will not stop further bombing, and the arrival in safer land marks the start of another perilous journey. When it comes to the war in Syria, Sarkissian’s work suggests that the end is not near enough. 

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