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Christian Boltanski’s total work at the Centre Pompidou

Faire son temps (life in the making) by Christian Boltanski, at the Centre Pompidou, proposes an immersion in a concrete universe, which, over 50 years, seems not to have suffered major conceptual and plastic deviations. In other words, despite the constant medium changes, like other artists such as Giacometti, Boltanski has sought to deepen his narrative with minimal variations, in an action based on an extensive analysis of life and its most important questions. Half a century later, we can state that his greatest project is the construction of a mythology, where the works are symbols, and where the artist is diluted, disappearing as an authorial entity to become part of the whole.

The exhibition, having been conceived by the artist himself, creating a total work, made the museum underline that it is not a retrospective, but rather a “journey to the heart of his work”. Along the way, in the dark environment, mostly illuminated by the works themselves, I felt that I was inside a large organism, somewhere between the real and the artificial, capable of reproducing fragments of some collective narrative. Perhaps this happened after Misterios (2017), where three large-sized screens show Boltanski’s project in northern Patagonia, where he worked with a group of sound engineers to develop three devices capable of emitting sounds similar to those of whales (which annually gather in that geographical area), when activated by the wind, in a utopian attempt to communicate with those animals. Or perhaps because, in the middle of the exhibition, we find the piece Coeur (2005), a suspended lamp that reproduces Boltanski’s heartbeat, turning itself on and off according to that rhythm.

The familiarity with every object, with every face, and with memories that we think are not ours, emphasize the accuracy and eeriness of these works that mainly deal with death; with our human relationship with death. Boltanski makes us feel at odds with the rituals and the culture that he simultaneously builds and hides, the structures of preservation of the other, of memory, and of identity – the powerful installations Animitas Chili (2014) and Animitas Blanc (2017).

In an interruption of this progressive hypnosis, we recall these connections between small stories and objects, as if it were a play or a choreography. Boltanski takes advantage of the various artifices of language (and art), including the possibility of breaking the boundaries between fiction and reality. There is the well-known episode in which someone discovered that, in the work 364 Suisses Morts (Berardo Collection), not all the faces, supposedly re-photographed from the obituary section of a Swiss newspaper, were from dead people. Boltanski replied: “Wait a few years and it will become true”. Or, later, when he said that he does not care about the concrete reality. His work becomes more important in this relationship with the truth. The tension between his and the world’s history, and the exaggeration or theatrical misrepresentation, takes us into the realm of shadows, as in the work Théâtre d’ombres (1984-1997) – responsible for the creation of myths that, since the beginning, have been beyond images and words.

With a mythology based on the cycle of life, Boltanski shows birth (Départ, 2015) and death (Arrivée, 2015), with two major signs at the entrance and exit.

Faire son temps is a fascinating exhibition-installation, where the works are energy ready to be activated by this narrative/myth that makes us dive into memories. Not being ours, and even not being real, they are inexplicably close to us.

At the Centre Pompidou, until March 16, 2020.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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