Christian Boltanski's island of death

The French artist is creating an archive of heartbeats to be housed on a remote Japanese island
Christian Boltanski, Ejima island, permanent installation of the Heart Archives
Christian Boltanski, Ejima island, permanent installation of the Heart Archives


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Venues around Finland

From: 12 March 2012
Until: 1 April 2012

IHME Project 2012: The Heart Archive

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"Painting isn't provocative or moving, only life is moving" says French artist Christian Boltanski. Perhaps this is why he has decided to preserve the heartbeats of over 35,000 people (at the last count) on an island just off the coast of Japan in his ongoing project Les Archives du Coeur (The Heart Archive).

In The Heart Archive visitors can listen to the archived heartbeats housed within a specially designed touring booth and then contribute a recording of their own. The next confirmed outing for the booth is in Finland for the 2012 IHME Contemporary Art Festival (March 23 until April 2). The resulting audio file is then added to Boltanski’s collection, which is permanently housed on the uninhabited Japanese island of Teshima, part of a group of art "oasis" islands called Benesse Art Site Naoshima.

“I am interested in what I call ‘little memory’," Boltanski explains. "An emotional memory, an everyday knowledge, the contrary of the Memory with a capital M that is preserved in history books. This little memory, which for me is what makes us unique, is extremely fragile, and it disappears with death. This loss of identity, this equalisation in forgetting, is very difficult to accept. The island is going to be the island of death and in the end the piece is not about life, but about death.”

Christian Boltanski at the Venice Biennale 2011 French Pavilion. Photo - Didier Plowy

Christian Boltanski at the Venice Biennale 2011 French Pavilion

Beginning his career as a painter in the 1960s, Boltanski is fascinated with the fleeting nature of human experience. His international breakthrough began with major exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1984 and the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 1990. For his often magical and shrine-like installations, Boltanski collects old photos, clothing and personal objects which are presented as archival artefacts tracing individual lives - even his own autobiography is presented as fiction.

Christian Boltanski, <em>Reserve</em> (1990)

Christian Boltanski, Reserve (1990)

Boltanski often uses everyday documents - passport photographs, school portraits and family albums - to memorialise ordinary people: unknown children killed in the Holocaust, the citizens of a Swiss town or the employees of a Halifax carpet factory, and now the sounds of peoples' heartbeats.

Christian Boltanski, <em>Monument: The Children of Dijon</em> (1986)

Christian Boltanski, Monument: The Children of Dijon (1986)

Many of the spaces he has created, often filled with flickering lights and shadows, lie somewhere between little theatres and churches, generating a sense of hushed wonder and poignant evocation of loss. "Each time you try to preserve something," Boltanski adds, "in fact you see more the absence than the presence, in the way you look at an old photo, you always see the absence not the presence. If you go to the island in a few years and you want to hear the heartbeat of your mother, you are not going to feel the presence, but the abscence of your mother. Each time you try to preserve something in fact you see more the abscence than the presence in the way you look at a photo you always see the abscence not the presence."


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