boltanski, Mambo

of myth
and memory

boltanski, Mambo

The work overlooks Bahía Bustamante, a bay where whales return every autumn.

boltanski, Mambo

The sound installation Misterios, with its horns that answer the song of the whales.

In Patagonia, land of endless skies, artist Christian Boltanski has created Misterios, a work that’s at the whim of the southern winds.

“There’s nothing to see here.” Christian Boltanski, 73, receives us in his studio in Malakoff, a suburb just south of Paris. He’s laid-back, with no trace of impatience; he just has to pop over to a DIY store later to pick up some sheets of glass. Boltanski is one of France’s most prominent and highly regarded artists, even though he likes to act the ordinary guy: self-taught, totally urban, not at all gourmet and “devoid of any inner life.” Ruse or truth? “I love flying,” he says, as if trying to make up for being slippery with the truth. “It’s great, I feel like I’ve stepped outside time, in the midst of nowhere, detached somehow.” He travels a lot. He has an exhibition in Shanghai coming up in May 2018, another in Jerusalem in June, projects in Japan, “a country where transmission takes place via knowledge, not the object.” And this autumn he’s in Argentina, with BIENALSUR, South America’s first international biennale of contemporary art, with venues in other latitudes, from Cotonou to Madrid.

Why did you go back to Buenos Aires?

To complete Misterios, a project I’ve had in mind now for two years. In 2011, with the help of Aníbal Jozami, the general director of BIENALSUR, I had a show at the Hotel de Inmigrantes, which became Argentina’s Museo de la Inmigración. It was an exciting experience. While I was scouting around for a particular site for Misterios, the BIENALSUR team took me to Bahía Bustamante in northern Patagonia, a stunning, uninhabited region, with no Wi-Fi or telephone. Whales come there in the autumn. My project involved building three 3-meter-high horns that are activated by the region’s strong winds. I worked with experts in acoustics, and when the wind rushes into the horns and passes across the copper blades, it sounds like whales. In many mythologies, not only Indian ones, whales have existed since the dawn of time, they possess knowledge.

You’re also presenting the film Misterios at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes . . .

Yes, with La Traversée de la vie, a maze of swathes of veils imprinted with photos, presented in Paris in 2015, at the Marian Goodman Gallery. Misterios is a ten-hour film, just a still shot of the horns, from dawn to sunset. I’m really interested in observing the passage of time. But don’t imagine I’m some kind of meditative old sage. I didn’t spend hours there gazing out to sea while waiting for the whales.

Aren’t whale sounds quite a radical shift from what you normally focus on in your art?

My work has changed over the past ten years. Now, myths are more important than my works. I hope that one day, when everyone has forgotten about me, people will tell the story of a man who tried to communicate with whales. Like The Heart Archive on the Japanese island of Teshima. No one cares whether it’s a work of art (or not) or who created it. It’s a place of pilgrimage, everyone can record their own heartbeat, or listen to someone else’s, someone dear or a stranger, mine included. My work revolves around mortality and memory. I’ve reached the age of retrospectives, so it’s a question of transcending the idea of death, of accepting the “after.” This is what Misterios, a work that blends into nature, is all about.

A work that fades with time?

In a way. Death is sad, whereas fading away is more peaceful. My recent works are soothing and, I think, soothed. I’m now trying to create small parentheses in life. I’m a very happy man, I find happiness wherever I go. We have to remember that art is also artifice, discordance, theatricality.

Do you feel an affinity with a particular artist?

Giacometti. I’d like to be a humanistit’s a bit silly saying thatand to me, Alberto Giacometti is the very embodiment of the humanist. He’s not stating anything. He starts over and over again. He doesn’t have any kind of answer, only questions. There are closed doors that are locked and each human being is looking for the key to open them. I’m looking for the key as well, but there’s no right key and the locks will never open. What’s important is to keep looking for the key.

Do you have any mentors?

I have had two parents: my spiritual father, Tadeusz Kantor, the Polish theater director, and Pina Bausch, one of my favorite artists. I met Joseph Beuys but didn’t speak with him; and I blew it with Georges Perec, even though we have two things in common, rules and feelings. It was at a dinner, but there were too many people, I didn’t dare speak to him. I’ll always regret that.

How would Georges Perec, the famous crossword puzzle constructor, have defined you in nine letters?

Artist in search of lost time.


Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo de América del Sur

Jusqu’au 31 décembre.

À Shanghai

En mai. Power Station of Art.

À Jérusalem

En juin. Israel Museum.

© Christian Boltanski, ADAGP, Paris 2017



Jusqu’au 31 décembre.


    En juin

    Israel Museum.

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