Part 5. Project 3. Research Point: Christian Boltanski

In this exercise I am to find out about Christian Boltanski’s 2010 installation ‘Personnes’ at the Grand Palais, Paris and analyse it using the terms set out at the start of Project 3.

I am to read the critics reviews of the work and then answer the following questions;

  1. In addition to the garments, the noise of the heartbeats permeates the exhibition. Why do you think this might be?
  2. To what extent are the textiles transformed into something other than fabric?
  3. Whats the significance of the installation title – and of the mechanical grabber?
  4. What associations does this work conjure up in your mind?

My first step was to remind myself of the terms set out at the start of Project 3. These were the pairs of words; 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.

I then looked at several critical reviews online, beginning with the Guardian article by Laura Cumming.

First response from reading the article – Good Grief. Coming at this exercise straight from the Christmas celebration is like having a bucket of cold water thrown over my head. What an incredibly morbid presentation.

Looking at the exhibit it reminds me, strangely, of Nazi death camps. The heaps of abandoned clothing represent the people that have passed through the area and no longer need them, the mass of neat squares represent the endless identical huts that these people were trapped inside. Maybe its the neatness of the squares that reminds me of the stereotypical German efficiency? The echoing of the heartbeat around the railway station is a reminder of the people who are not there, that their clothes are all that represents the life that used to be present. Maybe those clothes are cold, maybe they are still warm to the touch.

I then looked for other reviews online and was quite amused to find one in the Financial Times which talks about how Boltanskis father was actually a Jew who lived under floorboards! Maybe my initial impression is not as far off as I thought! According to the article ‘ the knowledge of this living entombment, this death-in-life, as well as the fate of millions of other European Jews, has informed all of his work as an artist’.

Vernissage.tv. (2019). Christian Boltanski: Personnes / Monumenta 2010 at Grand Palais Paris / Interview | VernissageTV Art TV. [online] Available at: https://vernissage.tv/2010/01/14/christian-boltanski-personnes-monumenta-2010-at-grand-palais-paris-interview-part-1/ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

In this interview Boltanski talks about how he wanted to make a piece about ‘the finger of God’ and how Personnes is a ‘metaphor for chance’. He likens it to representing Dantes circles of hell and talks about how he collects heartbeats and has over 35,000 of them at home. The general message I get from this video is that the exhibition shows the fleeting nature of existence. Clothes and buildings get left behind for years, even heartbeats can be preserved but the human body cannot. When someone is dead they are dead and it could happen to anybody at any time.

Returning to my intial brief I reflected on the terms set out at the start of Project 3 and applied them to Boltanskis exhibition.

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

I then addressed the given questions.

In addition to the garments, the noise of the heartbeats permeates the exhibition. Why do you think this might be?

I think the use of recorded heartbeats makes the exhibition immersive as opposed to just visual. By filling the (very pretty) railway station with sound you are making the building itself part of the exhibition as opposed to merely the staging area for it.

The heartbeats are another reminder of the fleeting nature of existence, a reminder of how a heartbeat can be collected and recorded but a human once gone is gone forever.

To what extent are the textiles transformed into something other than fabric?

With this question I’m assuming it means what does it remind me of? What do the clothes represent? They remind me, as per my initial impression, of dead people. My first impression was of Nazi death camps, and the more I have read about this exhibition, also of homelessness. I think this latter representation is because of the bags of clothes that I take to charity shops..? It is the formation of the clothes into the neat squares which gives the impression of the death camps.

Whats the significance of the installation title – and of the mechanical grabber?

The installation title ‘personnes’ means both somebody and nobody in French. This is another reference to the idea that the exhibition is about the fleeting nature of existence, Boltanskis ‘finger of God’. Nobody is present there currently but someobody once wore those clothes, somebody once owned that heartbeat.

The mechanical grabber and its pyramid of clothes remind me more of landfill or the wasteful processes of the fashion industry than of the transient nature of life.

What associations does this work conjure up in your mind?

  • Nazi death camps
  • Landfill
  • Wasteful fashion industry practices
  • That scene in Toy Story when a Minion gets chosen by ‘The Claw’….
Youtu.be. (2019). YouTube. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/zT8If2VABWQ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

Cumming, L. (2019). Christian Boltanski: Personnes | Art review. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/jan/17/christian-boltanski-personnnes-paris-review [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

Ft.com. (2019). Personnes, Grand Palais, Paris | Financial Times. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/4ee37ae8-01f6-11df-8b56-00144feabdc0 [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

Architectural Review. (2019). Personnes by Christian Boltanski, Paris, France. [online] Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/reviews/personnes-by-christian-boltanski-paris-france/5218131.article [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

Vernissage.tv. (2019). Christian Boltanski: Personnes / Monumenta 2010 at Grand Palais Paris / Interview | VernissageTV Art TV. [online] Available at: https://vernissage.tv/2010/01/14/christian-boltanski-personnes-monumenta-2010-at-grand-palais-paris-interview-part-1/ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

designboom | architecture & design magazine. (2019). christian boltanski: personnes for monumenta 2010. [online] Available at: https://www.designboom.com/art/christian-boltanski-personnes-monumenta-2010/ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

Frieze.com. (2019). Christian Boltanski. [online] Available at: https://frieze.com/article/christian-boltanski-0 [Accessed 28 Dec. 2019].

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