Born in Paris, September 1944.
Christian Boltanski is a French born artist and is mostly known for his installation, photography, and sculpture art. His work combines themes of memory, death and life, with the intention of remembering those who are no longer here. His work can sometimes appear somewhat eerie and ghostly, particularly demonstrated in his photography work.
Above is one work which was part of an installation titled ‘Monument (Odessa)’ by Boltanski. Odessa was his grandfathers hometown, a city in the south of Ukraine.
Although the children in these cropped photographs are not named, they have since been identified as Jewish students who lived in France during the Second World War. This is similar to Boltanski as he was born in Paris in 1944. He was born to a Christian mother and Jewish father who went to great lengths to avoid deportation by hiding for a year and a half under the floorboards of the family home. This affected Christian Boltanski, which is evident to see in pieces such as ‘Monument (Odessa)’.
The arrangement of this piece is important as the outer shape looks like a church or alter, with the lights signifying candles which has connotations of hope. They are a border of light surrounding the children – perhaps in the hopes of protection.
As mentioned previously, Boltanski was greatly affected by his fathers struggle as Jew fearing Nazi occupation in Paris during Boltanski’s childhood. This upbringing influenced his work in later years, demonstrated in the following work titled ‘No Man’s Land’ (2010). This piece displays a 25 foot high pile of clothes centre of the Armory Drill hall which is located in New York. Every couple of minutes, a giant claw reaches down to this large pile of old clothing and picks up items to then be dropped and discarded back onto the floor in an imperfect and random motion. Behind the pile of clothing sits a 66 foot long x 12 foot high wall of cookie tins. Along with this steady process of the claw, the installation is partnered with the sound of human heartbeats. This sound is important as part of the installation as we are reminded of the human lives lost. It creates a regular and constant audio which we often pay no attention to.
The pile of clothes could represent the clothes of those who were forced into concentration camps during the Second World War, who were ripped of their possessions and clothing. Once the clothing has been picked up and dropped by this giant claw, the items simply lay there discarded in their masses. It removes their importance and significance to the person as every item is treated with the same thoughtless action. Their individuality and personality is lost. Alternatively, this piece could be perceived as a shrine to those who are no longer here. This collection could represent the numbers of lives lost as these personal items are linked to each individual.
Boltanski is also known for his large scale projection and shadow work. As seen below, Boltanski uses photographs, light, and location to manipulate a photograph or object. The intention behind these photograph projections is to bring attention to those who have been forgotten. By using shadows and projection, it creates a ghostly and eerie atmosphere and suggests that these people are no longer with us. Boltanski focuses on the memory of the individual and wants us to remember who they were.