Since 2007, a group of medical volunteers in the Netherlands have fulfilled hundreds of wishes of the terminally ill to make a last visit to a meaningful place, whether to have a drink at the pub, or to spend a day with a granddaughter at a dinosaur park. The goal is to provide mobility through ambulances and medical care for those who have lost it. In 2015, the Stichting Ambulance Wens Nederland, or Ambulance Wish Foundation Netherlands, transported three people to the Rijksmuseum to view the Late Rembrandt exhibition in solitude. It was the coverage of this visit, with images of the patients reclining in hospital beds before the richly-hued paintings, that inspired artist Hrair Sarkissian to photograph the settings of these final wishes.
“These past years my work delved more and more in past, present, and even future times of the Middle East,” Sarkissian told Hyperallergic. “Dealing with issues such as the Armenian Genocide, the war in Syria, and other social and historical narratives of the region. This made me want to stop for a while and open another gate, a gate everyone can access without necessarily having any historical or socio-political knowledge. For this reason I chose to do this work dealing with something more universal.”
And, arguably, nothing is more universal than death. Sarkissian’s series of 47 photographs are called Last Scene, and were created between July 2015 and July 2016. Sarkissian captured the rooms, forests, museums, churches, and nondescript city corners at the same date and time of the wisher’s visit, although in his images there are no people, just the empty spaces. The viewers can consider the personal meaning that brought someone to choose this pool, this pier by a windmill, and how their absence now resonates in the image. “The simplicity of each landscape or scene heightens attention to an inner journey of remembering the past and envisioning a future that no longer includes you,” Sarkissian stated in his text for the project.
Sarkissian’s photographs are solely captioned with the name of the location, the date, and the time. Autumn leaves shroud toppled stones in an Amsterdam cemetery; another shows a row of urns in a columbarium, leading to a statue with its arms raised. Most, though, have no overt tones of death, and instead suggest moments of fleeting lives. There’s a train station in Rotterdam, the vacant seats of a theater, a casino, a synagogue, a grotto, a tulip garden, and a beach. There are several museums, including a shot of the Rijksmuseum’s “Night Watch,” where a woman in hospice had a private viewing in 2014, as well as those for military artifacts, and a luminous aquarium. We can only guess at the memories attached, or the hopeful desires for a day away from the hospitals or hospice to enjoy being alive.
“Once visited by these terminal patients, these places aren’t just places anymore, they turn into monuments,” Sarkissian said. “When you look at these monuments they make you imagine the person, their reasons behind their choice of place, while at the same time you will start thinking about the place you would choose.”