Title: France: Chance
Artists: Christian Boltanski
Curator: Jean-Hubert Martin
For Boltanski, who for over 40 years, has fixated upon the futility of life in the face of death, Chance, seems an optimistic premise for an exhibition. Boltanski’s presentation for the 2011 Biennale explores the luck and fate that exists at the very beginning of life, by fixating upon the expanse of possibilities facing newborn babies. Additionally, Boltanski includes an interactive element to his exploration, allowing the public to ‘play’ and ‘win’ with the artist.
The main room of the pavilion consists of a large, moving loop of paper, upon which Boltanski has printed photographs of hundreds of children. Weaving its way across a matrix of scaffolding, the photographic strip stops suddenly, an alarm bell sounds, and one child’s face is illuminated on an oversized screen. The process then begins again, until the next alarm bells and chance chooses another child.
In each of the two side rooms, a clock with luminous numbers counts up the world’s population. The panel on the left records, in real-time, the number of births and the panel on the right, the number of deaths. The number of births is always higher than the number of deaths. This marks an important stage in the evolution of Boltanski’s work, which has previously been dominated by disappearance and demise. Here, however, he opens himself up to a broader examination and presents the consistent, daily victory of life over death.
The third and final room introduces Boltanski’s interactive feature to the exhibition. On the wall there is a large video screen on which various images of segments of humans faces are projected. These segments are on a continuous loop, which the visitor can pause by pressing a button. The faces consist of three arbitrary sections, creating strange, mutable identities. Functioning like a giant, facial, fruit-machine, the visitor can ‘win’ by matching up the three sections of face. This part of the exhibition can also be experienced online, by using a websitewhich reads: ‘WIN by putting one of the portraits back together and Christian Boltanski will send you a gift!’ This virtual representation is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition, contributing to Boltanski’s ‘global approach’ in an entirely novel way, and furthermore provoking interesting questions about the parallels between the internet and the art world - specifically the Biennale itself.
Since the late 60s, Christian Boltanski has exhibited a direct, unflinching presentation of death, creating his own minimalist aesthetic which parallels the inevitability of our ultimate demise. Chance delivers an uncharacteristically sanguine perspective on these existential questions, which undermines the majority of his previous work. Arguably, Boltanski has been progressing towards this “positive” outlook since his inauguration of the project Les Archives du Cœur (The Archives of the Heart.) Since 2005, Boltanski has been collecting recordings of heartbeats from all around the world, giving himself the impossible task of collecting ‘the heartbeat of everyone in the world.’ The recordings will be preserved on the Japanese island of Teshima on the Seto Inland Sea. While this concept demonstrates a naïve ambition to present the fundamental proof of life on an unsurpassable scale, it does so with a shrewdness that Chance lacks. Les Archives du Cœur is an extraordinary example of Boltanski’s merging of fact and fiction, of his satirical manipulation of the autobiographical, and his acknowledgement of the futile, in the face of optimism.
Boltanski’s fixation upon chance did not have to be mirthless in order to be successful. However, it is too blatant, too contrived, and creeps over the boundary of the theatrical, into the realms of spectacle. This is something his work has previously managed to avoid - presenting stage-like homages to the dead in Les Suisses Morts (The Swiss Dead) and Detective, which have intelligently rested in the space between installation and theatre. Through its ‘game-show’ type presentation, Chance, stumbles out of this space, and exhibits itself devoid of satire or irony. Boltanski’s exhibition is an empty, minimalist shell, with methodological imprints of his previous works, but entirely lacking its profundity.
Play online with Boltanski: www.boltanski-chance.com