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Artist Asks Uncomfortable Questions at Paris Fair

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PARIS, Oct 22 2021 (IPS) - How does injustice make you feel? Do you see yourself as a perpetrator, or as a victim? Is there any such thing as neutrality? These are some of the questions that Dorian Sari asks through artwork, which includes blurry photographs with violently shattered glass frames.

The award-winning Turco-Swiss artist – who uses the pronoun they – has a solo booth at the current International Contemporary Art Fair in Paris (FIAC), and their work invites viewers to  question reactions and stances when it comes to societal norms. Who, for instance, has thrown the stone that is glued to the cracked glass?

“When people look at this, they rarely see themselves as the perpetrator, but we all do things that exclude others,” says Sari, who is represented by Turkish gallery Öktem Aykut, one of 170 galleries taking part in FIAC this year.

Dorian Sari with artwork at FIAC. Credit: AM/SWAN.

Dorian Sari with artwork at FIAC. Credit: AM/SWAN.

On from Oct. 21 to 24, the annual fair did not happen in 2020 because of Covid-19, and its return sees a range of artwork addressing global political and pandemic issues. Sari, who studied political science and literature before art, wonders however if the world has learned anything from the events of the past two years.

The works on display – a tiny chewed-up whistle, a retractable “wall” with spaces for communication if one wishes, two large photographs and a book titled Texts on Post-Truth, Violence, Anger are meant to spark even deeper reflections about identity and affiliation. (The book was published by the Kunstmuseum Basel when Sari had an exhibition earlier this year, after winning the Manor Art Prize – an award that promotes young visual artists working in Switzerland.)

The intended discomfort is even evident in Sari’s choice of title: “Ding-dong, the itch is back!”, and countries aren’t exempt. Can a nation claim neutrality when they sell arms, the artist also asks, through an illustration showing a gun emitting a red flag that has a white “x” in the middle.

Sari took time out from their busy schedule at FIAC to discuss these concerns. Following is the edited interview.

SWAN: What inspires your work?

SARI: My latest research was on the topic of post-truth, a political adjective for what’s happening in the 21st century. It means that we’re bombarded with information every day, but at the same time nobody knows if this information is true or not. We also live in a technological period where algorithms … just want people to consume more. To keep you on the platform, they show you something that you like, then a more radical version, and then something even more radical. There is so much polarisation and separation in the world, and this is one of my biggest interests. At the FIAC, I’m showing some of the works I showed at the Kunstmuseum in Basel and also at Öktem Aykut in Istanbul. With this series of photographs, I was interested in seeing the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator because we always think that what we do is the right thing, and it is always others’ fault. I wanted to change this position. Whoever is looking at the photograph is the stone-thrower but even though I give this position, people still prefer to identify as the victim. But even if you’re neither, and you’re just watching and being silent, that third option is also problematic.

Dorian Sari with artwork at FIAC; the exterior of the art fair venue in Paris. Photos by AM/SWAN.

The exterior of the art fair venue in Paris. Credit: AM/SWAN.

SWAN: What is behind the “itch” in the title of the photograph series?

SARI: It’s a series of 10 photos, and the “itch is back” means there’s an uncomfortable feeling inside, so you scratch your body. Maybe this discomfort comes because there’s something that the stone-thrower doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to see. It can be anything.

SWAN: So, the aim is to make us question our own itch?

SARI: Exactly. And to question what we reject, what we throw stones at in daily life, because we do it so much. We exclude so many things. I always believe we’re separated through the adjectives: the moment we’re born, they tell us our gender, they tell us our nationality, they tell us our religion, they tell us our social class, language, everything. Everything is automatically put on us, and it’s already part of our separation because one group doesn’t want the other group, and di-di-di-di-di-di. But after all, I believe in love, and I believe love doesn’t have a gender, race, social class. Love is love.

SWAN: And the whistle?

SARI: There are so many people who wear a whistle as a necklace, or carry it on a keychain or in their bag, so that in case of something violent in the streets, they can raise an alarm, make their voices heard. Or, in case there’s an earthquake… I was thinking that someone could have so much fear and anxiety, waiting for something to happen. And the whistle could be like a pencil – when you don’t use it, you chew on the end. And I thought that someone waiting for something bad to happen would chew on the whistle. So, it’s like auto-destruction: you eat your own voice in order to be heard because of fear.


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