The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
'Les ombres' by the French artist Christian Boltanski consists of 18 figures made of various materials such as card, wood, cork and tin. They are hung on a metal frame placed on four clay feet with an iron wire. A ventilator ensures that the figures move gently and five projectors illuminate the work and cause a play of light and shade on the walls of the dark space. The figures are only 5 to 25 cm long, but sometimes have enormous shadows. There are skeletons, hanged figures, skulls, fallen angels and a man with a scythe, the personification of death. The figures look childishly naïve because of their shape and the simple materials with which they are made.
Boltanski’s work is always about memory and loss. Constantly recurring themes include reflections on childhood and death. In addition, he refers to the magic of theatre. Boltanski prefers to work with materials that are not associated with art in a self-evident way. He believes that an artwork is successful if the viewer is not aware that he is looking at art. What is important is the emotion evoked by the work. The important thing is the emotion evoked by the work. He often uses portrait photographs or personal possessions such as the clothes of unknown people in his installations. Boltanski reconstructs the history of anonymous people or his own. He is not interested in how correct the historical facts are, but in the atmosphere of the memories which can be felt by anyone and which everyone can interpret for themselves in greater detail.
In 'Les Ombres', Boltanski presents a piece of theatre. He shows a scene, the frame with the figures, as well as the effects which he brings about with the ventilator and the lamps: movement, enlargement, a play of light and shadows. In a theatre, the audience is not confronted with fact, but with a simulated reality. The aim of this sort of (re) construction is often to expose a more profound truth. In the same way, Boltanski tries to confront the viewer with something essential with his scene that is both light and dark at the same time. Life and death, playfulness and tragedy, the personal and the general are united in a self-evident way, just as they often also go hand-in-hand in “real” life.
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