Galerie Yvon Lambert
108 rue Vieille du Temple
September 6 to October 18,
[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.