Monday, February 15, 2010

Monumental Humanity

Entering the Grand Palais in Paris the word grand doesn’t do the space justice, it is a huge unwieldy piece of palatial architecture that dominates you the moment you step inside, to ask an artist to fill this space with one unique installation is a tough ask. Christian Boltanski, however is one artist that can take on a space such as this and claim it as his own. This huge public building is the scene once more of Monumenta, each year an artist is asked to create a work for the space and this year Boltanski is the invited artist.

Arriving inside the space one is confronted by a huge wall constructed from rusting metal boxes, each box is individually numbered, the accumulation of numbered, ageing boxes suggests the contents are the personal effects of now unnamed and unknown thousands. It is a quietly ominous introduction to an experience that does not scare but quietly unsettles and pervades the huge space with ghosts of memories that one can feel but not know. Beyond the wall the large space contains a sea of clothing, hundreds if not thousands of various jackets, jumpers, shirts and coats placed in large rectangular patterns across the floor. They fill the floor from one side of the space to the other like the apocalyptic scattered remnants of passing humanity, a discarded sea of lost souls. At each corner sits a speaker emitting the sound of an individual heartbeat, pulsing in its own unique way it is the fingerprint in sound of a chosen soul. At the far side of the space is a mechanical hand plucking more clothing from a mountain of heaped clothes, dropping slowly it hovers at the peak, picks a handful raises it slowly skywards and then opens dropping the selected rags back onto the heap. Bodies of jackets and arms of shirts flutter as they drop and rest once more at the top of the mass, the selected appear at the mercy of a hand of fate choosing at random and then discarding once more to the unknown masses below.

Underlying this spectacle is the thunderous echoing regular pulse of collected heart beats, moving beyond audible sound to actually send vibrations through the room, this soundscape which is constantly being added to by the collecting of volunteers of visitors heartbeats it beats an ominous rhythm, a regular sonic wave like monstrous footsteps or an intermittent but never ending thunderclap rumble.

The environment Boltanski creates is unsettling and might suggest a future after humanity but also celebrates all individuals and their uniqueness and the beauty of our collective existence. To this viewer it appeared as some melancholic poem to our souls, a bizarre monument to humanities passing yet to happen but foretelling that point when the last human is lost to the earth and a warning against complacent assumptions of mortality both individual and collective.

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