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Christian Boltanski Life is to live

“They are like ghosts. I believe a lot in spirits”. In this statement Christian Boltanski (Paris, 6/9/1944 – 14/7/2021) underlined his aim on Art. Conceptual, philosophical, direct and effective, reflective, expressive in his works are topics linked to the Boltanski’s perception of an artistic expression.
The Master represented, visually, the concepts of: death, the passage of time, memory, the forgotten lives, chance and fate.
As tribute, via El Mundo i like to repost an interview released during a compelling exhibition at Centre Pompidou, Paris. From 13/11/2019 to 16/3/2020, “Faire son Temps” showed the creativity by Cristian Boltanski: strong symbol questioning life, death and the long path that life is.

What is an art exhibition?

For me, an exhibition is a bit like this: asking questions and, above all, not giving answers. I am horrified by the people who have the answers.

Are you/we looking at relics?

No, they are not relics. It is knowledge. Faire de temps (Do your time) is called the sample.


“He did his time” is how I am now old, c’est fini. As we would say of an old kitchen utensil, it did its time. But it is also making your time, I think that all of us make our time. Perfect for a retrospective. Yes, in both senses. I’ve done my time. It is normal at my age, 75 years. And at the same time, during all these years, I have manufactured my time.

Does a retrospective always to be nostalgic?

This is a true false hindsight. It is a single work with elements that are sometimes recent and sometimes old. The first room has the oldest work but it is not a chronological account and there are no labels that say 1980, 1990. It should be seen as a unique work. As there are no signs, the visitor receives a map at the entrance. Like on a trip. Exactly. Life is a journey with a departure and an arrival.

How was your trip?

I have had a very happy life. A life filmed by a collector who wanted to buy his ashes and agreed to pay him a per diem forever … Yes, you forget about it. Because a long time ago, 10 years. They film me from Tasmania. [David Walsh] has thousands of hours on me but he has nothing, because he does not have time to look at anything. It is like the internet. You type Boltanski and you have thousands of things but you have nothing. Because the more elements you have about something, the less information you have. He has thousands of hours. They are worth nothing.

What does he going to plan?

When I’m dead, I wish him to speed up 5000 times and for him to pass ziuooou, like this, fast and that he can press a key and sometimes see me and sometimes not.

Will the death be filmed?

That is what he wants. But I can die off camera. Here or on the street. They only film me at my house. Very Facebook everything. Yes. It’s a bit like that. But it is also something for me. In my workshop I have a ladder and every year I climb it more and more slowly. It is like seeing the passage of time and old age. It’s like watching yourself grow old.

Has old age given serenity to your work?

One of my latest works, Animitas, is quite serene. [The title comes from the name that Chileans give to the small altars built on the side of the road, in places where there has been an accident]. I have a friend who told his dying father about him: dying is like traveling by plane. Before, you are afraid of missing the flight, forgetting the ticket or misplacing a suitcase. Then you sit down, take off and are calm.

Is this how you see death?


What kind of death do you want? Slow and far away?

Slow, above all, slow.

How would you summarize your life?

I have tried to understand. But I have not understood. Understand the world, why we are here. There are so many things to understand.

Do you miss having faith?

I am horrified by people who have the answer in faith. I am close to certain Eastern philosophies and Judaism because you don’t have to believe in God to be religious. I am half Jewish, half Christian but I feel closer to Judaism. Because being religious in Judaism is looking for God, not finding him.

Have you found it?

No. There is no need to find it. Because it is not. Light is omnipresent in his work. Light is the symbol of life. Because it can turn off at any second. It is like this tower that looks solid but can collapse at any moment. [Reservation. The dead Swiss (1991)]. It’s fragile. It is like ourselves. We have a solid air but we can fall at any moment.

What do you think of the school?

I was a teacher a long time ago at the School of Fine Arts. I liked it because it is a useless place. Today there are almost no useless places where you can talk for hours about a spot on the ground or the color of the sky. It also has no purpose concrete. Normally one studies to be a doctor, or a lawyer. In Fine Arts there is no purpose. It is a place where people talk. I had hundreds of students and the vast majority are not artists. But this is not of the least importance.

Who are you calling teacher?


And you are a teacher of …?

No one.

Do you follow the artistic news, the exhibitions?

I’ve been to see El Greco. He is very good. Splendid. I was surprised. I did not know that he loved El Greco. It is not like the Leonardo exhibition, which is ugly.


Yes. You know all the pictures. The drawings cannot be seen because there are many people and instead of the paintings that they have not brought there are some X-rays that are not interesting.

by Alain Chivilò