Christian Boltanski’s Personnes Exhibition 2010:
ART or DESIGN
TEMPORARY or PERMANENT
LARGE SCALE or SMALL SCALE
TRANSFORMING and/or DEFINING and/or FORMING
IMMERSIVE and/or DISTANT
PATTERN and/or COLOUR and/or REPETITION and/or SHAPE
In addition to reading Laura Cumming’s review in The Guardian Online; Christian Boltanski: Personnes, 17 Jan 2010 I watched Tateshots: Christian Boltanski and Vernissage TV’s Interview; Christian Boltanski in conversation with Christophe Ecoffet 2010.
The noise of heartbeats permeates the exhibition, why do you think that may be?
Partly I think it’s to make the exhibition an even more immersive experience; not only are you seeing things which are fragments of peoples lives, in the clothes on the floor, but you’re hearing the sound of a human heartbeat as you walk around. Boltanski himself (in the Vernissage video above), says he ‘collects’ heartbeat’s, that you can ‘preserve the heartbeat but you can’t preserve the person’. To me this suggests it’s a way of reinforcing the idea of impermanence and human mortality, a heartbeat is a unique thing in every individual which can only be heard when the person is alive. It has an odd effect of acting as a memento mori.
To what extent are the textiles transformed into something other than fabric?
The clothes as suggested by Laura Cumming in the guardian really becoming a metaphor for human life. Their clinical, square formation is suggestive of the organised coldness and brutality of the destruction of human life in Nazi Concentration Camps. Perhaps today the clothes remind us of the refuge crisis, of countless numbers of people struggling to and sometimes not managing to survive.
What’s the significance of the installation title – and of the mechanical grabber?
The word ‘personnes’ has a dual meaning in french – ‘people’ and ‘nobodies’ – it perfectly frames the exhibition, with it’s contents so rich with cultural and visual connotation but so absent of actual human identification – the people alluded to by the clothing and the numbered biscuit tins are never identified by name or face or ethnicity, they remain anonymous.
The significance of the mechanical grabber – the mechanical grabber according to Boltanski is to represent the ‘element of chance’ or ‘the finger of God’ that one moment you can be alive, and the next you could be dead, without having any control over when or how that happens. I see associate the mechanical grabber and the mound of clothing more with human waste, again another trace of human existence. But also with issues of sustainability and our throw-away culture. But the idea of consumerism/waste issues is kind of dismissed by the arrangement of the clothes and the rusted poles/neon lights which create a path towards the mechanical grabber.
What associations does this work conjure up in your mind?
The first association that came to mind was the holocaust, and the remains of people, items of clothing, shoes, that were left behind by those killed by the Nazi’s during that period in history. I’ve never been to the holocaust museum but I’ve heard part of what remains there are big piles or displays of shoes and belongings of those who were in concentration camps.
The wall of biscuit tins with numbers at the entrance to the main exhibit also brings up associations with genocide or mass murder, the de-humanisation of people, reducing them to clinical cold numbers. The rusting poles and white neon lights, again have an industrial or cold feel to them, a visual reminded to the aesthetic of a lab or a warehouse, for me it reinforces that idea of people being ill treated or worse. The mechanical and methodical action of the grabber lifting and dropping the clothes brings to mind a sense of detachment and randomness. The machine is unfeeling – it has no ability to consider human life etc.
The sound of the heartbeats – heard as unique sounds by each square of clothing and as a mass in one unified beat which fills the hall, are suddenly eerie in this context. A heartbeat could be a sound that brings Joy – the sound of an unborn baby, a sign of life, or the closeness of someone, but in this context it’s a memento mori, a sad sound which reminds the listener of the inevitability of death.
Further reading on the artist Christian Boltanski: Grove Art Online Biography.