Réserves: Meurtres [Reserves: Murders]

Boltanski christian reserve meurtres 19891990 photo sybl s   pictures

Christian Boltanski

1989-1990

Installation, 200 x 500 x 500 cm.
Materials: wood, paper, light

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. BK5911_M105).

Museums see to it that works of art are presented in the best possible way: their position in the room and the lighting are meticulously and professionally considered. Lamps are installed so as not to affect the appreciation of the work. In his installations, Christian Boltanski soon deals with the problem of annoying lighting by making it a visual element in the work. Ten hazy black and white photos (behind glass and ‘framed’ with black tape, as a mourning band) each stand on a small white board fixed to the wall. Each is lit by a desk-lamp that hangs above the photo and bends over it quite brazenly. Since the lamp and its light are reflected in the glass we can hardly see what the photos show. All ten lamps are on a single circuit whose wires form a fanciful line that links the photos together.

In these photos of photos (from newspaper cuttings, family albums, archives, etc.) we see among other things a child in a coffin, an old woman on her deathbed and other situations involving dead people, the actual facts of which we can only guess at. These indistinct images of dead people from the past and their collective anonymity leave a lot to the viewer’s imagination, which is what gives the work its intensity. In an almost bureaucratic way, Boltanski documents and archives his ‘found’ photos of the dead, which come from various ‘réserves’, archives (literally: ‘stocks’). The desk-lamps are normally to be found in offices or on the desks in teenagers’ rooms, but certainly never as a light-source in a museum. They focus the attention on each of the individuals in the photos, but also create a sinister atmosphere of interrogation and torture. They form an element in Boltanki’s contemporary ‘memento mori’, like the candles in the ‘memento mori’ paintings of the seventeenth century, which were intended to remind the viewer that we all have to die (like life, a candle can burn down or be suddenly extinguished).

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