Research: Christian Boltanski

The artist Christian Boltanski was recommended to me several times by various professors. I loved his work immediately when I saw it. I have been trying to find books in the library about his work for a while now, but they always seem to be checked out or missing. I finally ordered one titled Boltanski: Time, edited by Ralf Beil. By slowing reading through it, I’m realizing how much Boltanski is obsessed by death and the anonymity of the living. In his work he presents people or objects that are dead and forgotten. Having been born in France post-Holocaust, Boltanski had a challenging childhood since he had a Jewish father. In his early work, he would often invent his own childhood and history using other people’s photographs. He would purposely choose photos that could be anybody and would often use many of them together to further implicate anonymity of the figures. This furthered the universality of his work. Boltanski comments in an interview with Ralf Beil on May 24, 2006: “I’m fundamentally convinced that the observer completes the work of art. I provide the stimulus, and the observer reacts in accordance with all of his past, his deepest experiences, turning it into something else.”

Click here for a video documentary about Boltanski and his work.

In relation to my own work, I am less interested in the death aspect and more so in the memory or the traces of memories that are left behind. Another big difference is that I am using photos that are personal to me, so it is even more about memory and my family’s trace through history.

Zeyt, 2001

Each stand shows a single person, on one side as a child, on the other side as an adult.

La reserve des Suisses morts (The dead Swiss), 1995

Each biscuit (cookie) tin has a face of a person pasted to the front. These faces were appropriated from the obituaries. The faces of the dead are smiling, showing the best side of themselves. This is a good example of the truth and fiction theme that I’m interested in. There is always a flip side.

Scratch Room, 2002/2006

Underneath a layer of silver paint that scratches off fairly easily are large photos of crime victims and criminals from the Spanish magazine, El Caso.  It is left up to the audience to scratch off the silver paint to reveal the layer below and in doing so the violence of the crimes are mirrored in the act of the audiences participation and leaving its trace on the floor of the gallery.  After the photos are revealed, we are still unsure of who the criminals are and who the victims are.



Filed under Inspiration, Memory, Other Artists, Photo, Trace

5 responses to “Research: Christian Boltanski

  1. vrolli20

    Hi Anna,

    It’s been a while since I’ve been on your blog, and I can tell because you have been diligently posting new stuff since I last visited. I’m glad you took the initiative to get that book and had some time to do some reading for your seminar class. It sounds like your curiousity is being rewarded. I just have one question from reading. Does Christian Boltanski have any complaints or issues arise for using found photographs of people who may not want their picture displayed in his work?

  2. Vrolli20,

    That is a very good question. I have not come across this answer in anything that I’ve read, but if I do, I’ll post about it. I think most of the photos he uses are of people that are already dead. However, I’m not completely sure about that since I have only begun to research.


  3. Ditto for me, a long time. Your intellectual approach to why you do your art interests me. When I write, I usually start with a feeling, and go with it. Maybe I need to think more about why it matters.

    I really like this artist’s work. Photographs of real but unknown people fascinate me too. But I also like the ones of those I “knew”. Really they are only traces left in my memory, right? Life happens in the mind.

  4. Mariacristina,
    I have typically approached my art with a feeling first as well, however graduate school has changed that for me. I am expected to back up everything I do with an explanation of why. This really drove me crazy at first since I was more of a process artist and worked more intuitively. However, now I am more appreciative of having a stronger concept behind what I do. Of coarse the research side is expected since I have to write a thesis.
    As far as traces left only in memory, I disagree. Remember, TRACE is a multifaceted word. (which is why I love this word so much.) When my grandmother died many years ago, she left behind a lifetime of traces. Everything in the house was a trace. Her box full of recipes, the makeup left out in the bathroom, the path around the pond, the vegetables growing in the garden, etc. We ALL leave traces behind, and not only in memory. Yes, life does only happen in the mind, but the effects of life happen all around us.
    Thanks so much for commenting and visiting again!

  5. Pingback: Christian Boltanski und die Spurensicherung | bhlogiston

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