MAC/VAL

MAC/VAL is opened every day of the week, except on mondays:
tuesday to friday, 10 h to 18 h
week-ends and holidays, 12 h to 19 h.

Closed on january 1st, may 1st and december 25th.

phone: 01 43 91 64 20
fax: 01 79 86 16 57

Access map

Place de la Libération
94400 Vitry-sur-Seine

  003/023  

Christian Boltanski

Notice

Christian Boltanski is interested in other
people’s lives and histories, great and
small alike. He pursues individual
narratives that are brought together
by fate, chance and human infamy, and,
when accumulated, represent the world’s
disorders. In paying tribute to them, he
makes a stand against inexorable oblivion.
He posits as the real drama the
disappearance of each and every individual
in History’s mass, and thus tries to shed
light on traces, at times an idea of what
everyone has been: the inventoried objects
that survive people – a name, face, breath,
piece of clothing, voice, heartbeat – more
and more impersonal and abstract traces,
henceforth recognisable.
His personal (hi)story is deeply rooted
in the traumas of the Second World War and
the Holocaust. Born in Paris during the
German occupation, while his father, of
Jewish origin, hid under the floor of the
family apartment to escape deportation,
he spent his boyhood watching how others
lived, and invented a life for himself,
then a praxis and an artist’s life.

It was only natural that he should find
his way into the ‘Paris scene’, then made
up of Annette Messager, Gina Pane, Sarkis,
Jean Le Gac, and Paul-Armand Gette, among
others, all artists involved in the
invention of ‘personal mythologies’.
Christian Boltanski never really studied,
because his youth was spent buried in the
family circle. In it and in himself he
found the material for his work. Later, he
always clung on to the domestic economy of
the work, wholly made up of banal familiar
materials, often pre-existing, always easy
to obtain (clay, plasticine, sugar,
photographs, biscuit tins, clothes).

In the early 1970s, he excavated and
invented his own memory by re-creating
in his works the gestures of boyhood,
recalling the child he perhaps was. Later,
his work was constructed from his own
private experience of the world and his
love of life, and for other people’s lives,
in an ongoing back-and-forth between the
world and himself.

Using allegedly autobiographical
expression, Christian Boltanski describes
the world’s music and its basic inhumanity
in increasingly theatrical works. Nowadays
he embraces space, creating environments
where time and space combined use visitors
as witnesses, as in Personnes [People],
a project for Monumenta (Grand Palais,
Paris, January–February 2010), at the heart
of an installation that places them before
history, both past and in the offing. Today,
the future occupies an essential place
in his work, a counterpoint to his past
production, bringing history into
the present, a present now tinged with
a composite future. Thus it is that the
island of Teshima, in the Sea of Japan,
has housed his Archives du Coeur [Heart
Archives] since July 2010.
Monument is part of a series started in
1984, a key creative period in the artist’s
life. After delving into his memory and
bringing up to the surface of the present
the gestures and (real?) objects of his
boyhood, in the 1980s his work shifted
towards the lives of others. A monument to
an undefined but recognisable history, this
work creates a muddle of these feelings,
which are the fulcrum and challenge of his
oeuvre. Past photographs, scratched by
electric wires, of children, flowers and
gold paper, form a monument to interrupted
destines, to vanished childhood, to happy
bygone goings-on, still held by the light
of memory, ridiculous little bulbs,
a sublime and pathetic effort, doomed
to failure.

Les Regards is a work that has just
joined the collection. Here, too,
there are images, but snippets of faces,
fragments of people. The decision to
retain only the eyes bolsters our unusual
relation to the work. Christian Boltanski
stages a situation, an almost unbearable
face-to-face, so history-laden is the
relationship of each one of the people.
Here we have fractions of faces
of men deported to the death camps,
image captures of a TV programme.

Implacable eyes, and gazes, and yet
still unaware of their mortal fate,
unbearable in the light of the history
we now know about, impossible to
tolerate for the person looking at
them. These ‘portraits’ are nevertheless
removed from any realism; they are
now just recollections informed by
the gust of memory’s wind. No eloquent
reference – they are hard to identify
and anonymous, unknown, the better
to recognise oneself therein.

Today, Christian Boltanski combines the
three forms of time to make tomorrow’s
history with yesterday and today; he tells
of Time’s inexorable march. Like a
demiurge, he plunges visitors into his
own anxieties, as in Après [Afterwards],
his project for the MAC/VAL (January–March
2010). After running aground on the lives
of others, he makes his own death the
subject of his oeuvre, like a challenge
tossed to fate, and to himself.

A.F.