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Installation View of No Man's Land by Christian Boltanksi. Photo by James Ewing. Courtesy Park Avenue Armory

Christian Boltanski’s No Man’s Land is currently on view at the Park Avenue Armory in New York through June 13. If you’re in NYC it is a must see.

I thought discussing No Man’s Land would be a nice way to sign off on the blog, as the work – in fact Boltanski’s entire oeuvre – is about preservation, memory and loss via his career-long use of found photographs, old clothes, bare lightbulbs and mausoleum-like structures. Through his work we see an autobiographical approach to an ever-shifting identity that is examined almost from a post-mortem state. “Every individual is unique yet at the same time so fragile that, after two or three generations, he or she disappears completely,” he says. “My work is a sort of exploration of uniqueness and disappearance.”

Detail Installation View of No Man's Land by Christian Boltanksi - a 50 ton mountain of used clothing. Photo by James Ewing. Courtesy Park Avenue Armory

What drives me as an artist is that I think everyone is unique, yet everyone disappears so quickly. I made a large work called The Reserve of Dead Swiss (1990) and all the people in photographs in the work are dead. We hate to see the dead, yet we love them, we appreciate them. Human. That’s all we can say. Everyone is unique and important. But I like something Napoleon said when he saw many of his dead soldiers on a battlefield: ‘Oh, no problem – one night of love in Paris and you can replace everybody.’ – Christian Boltanski

Unlike a large portion of his previous work, No Man’s Land does not employ the use of photographs. First installed at the Grand Palais in Paris under the title “Personnes” (a French word meaning both ‘nobody’ and ‘somebody’), the work is a combination of clothes, a crane, a wall of rusted boxes, exposed lighting and a soundtrack of recorded human heartbeats, all put together in a large interior space. Since 2005 Boltanski has collected heartbeat recordings (a visitor to No Man’s Land can have their heartbeat recorded by a docent in a lab coat). Each of the recordings are placed in Boltanski’s Archives Du Cour, a monumental project that will secure and preserve over 35,000 heartbeat recordings safely underground on a remote Japanese island. Some people, such as writer Anthony Haden-Guest, have begun referring it as Boltanski’s own “LOST” island. You can read Haden-Guest’s much blogged about article here: Christian Boltanski’s Lost Island. And check out a video interview made during the Grand Palais exhibition here:

Christian Boltanski preparing for No Man's Land at the Park Avenue Armory. Photo by James Ewing. Courtesy Park Avenue Armory

“We can preserve nothing,” Boltanski says. “I collect heartbeats. But this island is going to be an island of dead people in a few years. And if somebody goes there he is not going to see the presence of the person. He is going to see the absence of the person. Each time you attempt to preserve something, you fail. But I think that’s the beauty, to fail.”

And so, as our time together on this blog comes to a close, I want to wish you all the best in your future attempts – in both your successes and your failures – and hope you may find the beauty in all outcomes. I have the highest hopes for each of you and look forward to seeing how you will all continue to grow in your art making. This has been a great year. You’ve made good work. May this blog be a testament to our partnership and learning together and a marker of not who you are, but of the potential of who you will become.

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