Sunday, 12 January 2014

Stalking art heroes

So I went to Carriageworks on Friday and hovered, as expected, awkwardly and mostly alone by the buffet. When I wasn't hovering by the food making blind date awkward eyes at people I thought I once knew, I had the huge privilege to take in the extraordinary work of Christian Boltanski, whose work I've always admired. 
Chance was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 2011 (the one I didn't manage to get to...) but this is it's first Australian outing and it's a hugely contemplative experience and yet another deft expression by Boltanski of the randomness of life.

Made up of three distinct but deeply emotionally threaded works, the most significant piece is the enormous Wheel of Fortune, where reels of black and white photographs of the squished faces of Polish newborns, taken from newspaper announcements, stream through an enormous metal structure like a factory assembly line. The inconsequence of these independent ‘miracles’ when thrown together en masse is made all the sharper when a bell rings and the projector shudders to a halt, highlighting one random baby, which, perhaps not ironically, looks much like the next. Is this one human, singled out, destined for greatness? Notoriety? History? Or will the filmstrip crank back to life and commit them to obscurity once more? Wheel of Fortune indeed. It would be cruel if it wasn’t depressingly true. 
Christian Boltanski, The Wheel of Fortune, 2011-2014
Other elements that make up Chance include Last News from Humans, two huge scoreboards at either end of Wheel of Fortune. These counters are constantly ratcheting up huge numbers in red and green respectively. How Boltanski has got his hands on these statistics I don’t know but the flux of life is brutally quantified by this livestream of numbers totalling all the deaths and births taking place around the world in that moment.
Christian Boltanski, Last News from Humans, 2011-2014
And lastly there’s Be New. This work reminds me of his earlier work Les Suisses Morts, where identikit faces are assembled from the photographs of dead Swiss. Here the dead Swiss are intercut with the Polish newborns, their foreheads, eyes and mouths flickering like fruit in a slot machine. It’s up to the visitor to hit stop and thus create their own unique portrait – one of a possible 1.5 million combinations.
Christian Boltanski, Be New, 2011-2014
All these works have enormous potential to be quite morbid and certainly depressing but Boltanski himself describes all his work as a desperate attempt to preserve life and there is something beautifully epic about these narratives of life and chance and in/significance that is quite humbling.
Anyway, I'm glad I went. Because not only were the sandwiches delicious but I got to clap eyes on Christian Boltanski, the man himself. 

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