Project 3, Research point 1: Christian Boltanski

 Christian Boltanski's  Personnes ; image from  Traffic Magazine

Christian Boltanski's Personnes; image from Traffic Magazine

Analysis by terms / categories:

  • Art: this is an installation that is meant to be visited in an exhibition space.
  • Temporary: the installation was in place in Paris for just over a month. 
  • Large scale: the piece is large enough to dominate and overwhelm visitors, which is likely part of the desired effect.
  • Form: Personnes formed its own shapes, in regular rectangular deposits of clothing.
  • Immersive and Distant: the installation is large enough to walk around in, but also draws some of its power from the ability to stand back and take in its scale.
  • Repetition and Shape: the work is laid out as a series of regular rectangles of clothing lying on a concrete floor.

The media release for Personnes described it as "social, religious and humanistic exploration of life, memory and the irreductible individuality of each and every human existence – together with the presence of death, the dehumanisation of the body, chance and destiny. Conceived as a work in sound and vision, Personnes takes up a new theme in Boltanski’s work, building on his earlier explorations of the limits of human existence and the vital dimension of memory : the question of fate, and the ineluctability of death. Personnes transforms the entire Nave of the Grand Palais through the creation of a coherent, intensely moving installation conceived as a gigantic animated tableau. Personnes is a one-off, ephemeral work. In accordance with the artist’s wishes, the components of the piece will all be recycled at the end of the exhibition."

Without knowing anything about the installation, my first glances at pictures of it reminded me of the large piles of sorted clothes, shoes and eyeglasses confiscated from Jewish victims of the Nazi death camps. The empty (de-personalised) clothes cannot help but speak to us of the absence of the people who once wore them. And the rectangular piles on the floor suggested to me both that the missing people were less important than their clothes and that a rational mind had created the arrangement with deliberate purpose. The use of a crane to move the clothes makes the arrangements even more mechanistic and dehumanised.

The name of the installation—Personnes—is a play on words that reflects the dehumanisation described above: the French word suggests at once the people who would have worn the clothes and their absence ("no ones").