DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       October 2003  



Christian Boltanski: Entre Temps

Galerie Yvon Lambert
108 rue Vieille du Temple
75003 Paris

September 6 to October 18, 2003



[image to follow]

I remember other shows of Boltanski. Sets of reliquaries, narratives of mourning for others known and unknown as well as, it seems, for the artist as well; the knowing accomplice and participant in the forced march of mortality. This show, though, is more than a summary-it is a will and testament.

In the first room a photograph is projected onto a hanging scrim. A child's face, described sparingly in black, white and melancholy blue looms in the surrounding dark. The silence chills. In the next room along the wall there is a sequence of glass-fronted cabinets surmounted by pale lights, a grim parody of lamps that usually hover over classic paintings in gilded frames. Within each cabinet is a profusion of memorabilia; snapshots, letters, fragments of tickets and notes, relics of past living that could be found in crumbling boxes stored in musty closets or damp garages anywhere; scraps that testify to the once personal now faded into the indifference of anonymity. The colors are the pale dusty tones of old tinted photographs, dull tans, blues and grey-green; only a rare new Kodachrome occurs here and there as a punctuation and last sigh of longing.

The stillness mourns. Passing through to another room hung with oblong rectangles of galvanized tin gleaming wide as our open arms, there are top-lights trailing serpents of black wire to plugins. Each one is painted in black enamel with the birth and death dates of the artist's friends; 1946-1991, 1896-1984, 1963-1993 and more and more(the artist is not young). Walking through another entry into the last room, the space opens to a vastness stories high, crowned with a cover of glass panes set in steel ribs. There is nothing but white and light. White and light. Voices echo in hollow distance. Light has formed a thematic continuity in the whole installation; its emergence from surrounding darkness in the first room, the dusty haze of the next , the objective clarity focused on the frank statements of the following room then to totality in the last. It is not the warm light of bliss though, but the cold light of arctic space.

A journey? Sure, but the times between the markers are only suggested by their traces and residue. This is a kind of via negativa that impels us to cherish what is not described by the tangible remembrance; the full instants of a life that are beyond representation. No fashionable morbidity or wallowing in decay here; none of the infantile display and melodramatic vulgarity of Britart, it is a meditation on death for the grown-ups who must realize it. The perilous gift of reason provides the means to distance ourselves from the immediate in order to make connections and interpretations leading to more inclusive feeling. Not the big adrenaline hit but the lasting, shivering depth of reflection is the forming grace of art. After experiencing the work of Boltanski we walk out of the gallery with the needle of remembrance that this is the real death that frames a real life and urges us to get on with it. But can this merciless nihilism of French philosophy, the joie de mourir that replaced the vivre long ago, take us there? We may have to go elsewhere.

KIRK HUGHEY is a writer based in Paris.

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