Christian Boltanski, questioning the ephemeral

Death, traces, memory, that of beings and that of peoples, haunted his work. But also his relationship, astonished, ironic to himself. And now the plastic artist Christian Boltanski leaves, at 76, really this world into which he had entered so strangely.

He was born in Paris on September 6, 1944, in Paris, to a writer mother, and a physician father of Ukrainian Jewish origin. To protect himself from Nazi terror during the Occupation, the latter had just lived as a recluse in a cache hidden under the floor of the family apartment, literally ” gone underground “. “I lived all my childhood with stories of survivors, all my parents’ friends had hidden, returned from the camps, we lived in this atmosphere », Confided the artist to the curator Catherine Grenier in The Possible Life of Christian Boltanski (Threshold, 2007). The anguish of separation and withdrawal into the family unit accompanied an atypical youth, shared with his two brothers, Jean-Elie, who would become a distinguished linguist and Luc, a sociologist.

This initial trauma, the entirely self-taught artist had worked on through art, “Which allows you to put your problems at a distance from yourself”, he repeated. Avoiding oblivion, never resolving to disappear, will become the obsession with his creation, first by painting, then by installations playing with time and space, shadow and light, the real and the evocative, the tragic but also a form of lightness.

In these works, boxes of rusty cookies, banal cases of childhood treasures, become mysterious funeral urns. Black and white photos of faces found in the press or from archives capture the fleetingness of existence. Clothes pile up in heaps of nothingness …

Neither painful nor pathetic, the work of Christian Boltanski was dramatic and poignant, deeply humanist by his concern to keep the memory of each and every one alive. “I was interested in the fact that every human being is holy, in the importance of the uniqueness of each one. And I built something from there ”, he explained, evoking the place of Christianity in his work. Non-believer, declaring not to know how to pray – “As Annette often tells me (his plastic artist wife), I have no interior life ” -, the artist never ceased to welcome and relaunch questions, an attitude which for him brought the artist closer to the mystic. This endless quest had made him nomadic, wandering “Like a showman” in the whole world. Highly requested, he deposited the fragile and often ephemeral pieces of his game of chess against death as far as Tasmania or Patagonia. Weaving a universal brotherhood in the face of destiny.


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