Christian Boltanski: ÉPHÉMÈRES

“I think all my work was to ask questions, and not to have answers. And the biggest question is that I believe that everybody is totally unique and hence very important, and at the same time, everybody is so fragile.”

Christian Boltanski

Christian Boltanski: ÉPHÉMÈRES

Christian Boltanski is probably the most important French artist working today this upcoming exhibition will mark the artist’s first solo presentation in London since 2010. Working in a variety of different mediums, Boltanski’s practice includes large-scale installations, photographs and sculpture. His work touches the collective imagination and exposes the fragility of memory, while being deeply rooted in the artist’s own history. Conceived as a complete installation, the exhibition will comprise new works, including a number of film installations.

On the ground floor, La Traversée de la vie (The Crossing of Life) will see the artist re-employ photographs he previously used for a work from 1971, entitled Album de photos de la Famille D. For this seminal piece Boltanski used found photographs from a 1950s family album belonging to one of his friends. Attempting to reconstruct the album in chronological order as an ethnologist would, he noticed it did not reveal anything specific about this family, but rather expressed their banality and predictability. Here, the photographs will be enlarged and printed on thin and weightless veils, the delicate nature of which will convey the notion that the faded images belong to a past, which can no longer be fully grasped. The portrait genre in Boltanski’s oeuvre involves nameless faces, acting as ghosts of forgotten identities and making it difficult to trace the lives of people portrayed. In an effort to confront the loss of identity with the potential of recollection in our fast-paced contemporary world, the artist constructs a pre-determined and meditative path set by the position of the veils. The visitors therefore will wander among memories that are not their own, but which will resonate with them, coalescing personal and shared memories.

As visitors exit this work, they will be met by two new monumental film installations facing one another across the main gallery space, two subtle variations of Boltanski’s recent series Animitas. On display will be Animitas (Blanc), which was made in the bare and snowy landscape of Ile d’Orléans in Quebec in 2017, and Animitas (small souls), made in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2015. Their titles derive from the Latin word anima, which translates to “soul”, and animitas, a Chilean word which translates as “roadside shrine”. In each iteration, Animitas consists of hundreds of small Japanese bells with Plexiglas tags attached to a tall stem planted in the ground. The placement of the bells refers to the position of the stars on the artist’s birth date, and their chiming in the wind serves as a gentle metaphor for lost human souls. The question of the self is at the centre of the films, and visitors will be invited to sit on the nearby benches and contemplate these sanctuaries, as a way to confront their own solitary reflections.

The fleeting nature of all living creatures will also be reflected in a new film installation titled Éphémères (Mayflies). The French word “éphémère” also translates as “ephemeral” or “temporary”, and in documenting the brief lives of these insects belonging to the Ephemeroptera group, the artist will poignantly draw a parallel between the fragile nature of the insects and that of human life. The work will act as a transition within the itinerary of the exhibition, alongside the diptych Départ-Arrivée (2015), which consists of two signs composed of red and blue bulbs; a reminder of the abrupt start (“départ”) and end (“arrivée”) points on the arc of life’s passage of time.

On the upper floor of the gallery, Boltanski will present a further new work, Misterios (“Mysteries”), a three-screen monumental video installation which documents a site-specific project made in October 2017 for BIENALSUR, the Biennial of Contemporary Art of South America. Filmed in the remote, rocky and uninhabited environment of Bahia Bustamante in Patagonia, Argentina, the video work will encompass the energy of the wind, rocks and ocean into one powerful installation. Installed on the seashore, three colossal horns activated by the strong winds of the Chubut province produce a sound that resembles that of whales and reminds the viewer of haunting ancient myths, and an echo of ancestral times.

Christian Boltanski ÉPHÉMÈRES 12th April – 12th May, 2018 Opening: Thursday 12 April, 2018 , 6 – 8 PM
Marian Goodman Gallery 5-8 Lower John Street London W1F 9DY www.mariangoodman.com

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper'