Boltanski's visual archives

History of the Human Sciences 11 (4):121-140 (1998)
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Abstract

The Archive is a central but paradoxical image in the work of the con temporary French artist Christian Boltanski (born 1944). Because Boltanski is obsessively concerned with the death-like rupture and loss by which experience is continuously reduced to fragmentary and inac curate memories of the past, especially regarding the adult's perception of childhood, archives represent for him a potential means of regaining access to what has been lost and is being mourned. However, Boltan ski's installation and performance works that investigate the powers of archives set out ironically the absurdly limited and misleading processes of an archive. Photography in particular is shown to be unreliable, more icon than document, challenging rather than asserting notions of cat egory and coherence. The notion of the icon, moreover, underlines the spiritual dimension that accompanies this absurdist relationship with the past. Our faulty but much-desired awareness of a past gives complex value to our present, often in a touching, pathetic way, however arbitrary the means involved. The trail of the archive leads to an uncertainty that is nonetheless precious. The many subjects that Boltanski treats in this light vary disarmingly and controversially from the trivia and detritus of everyday living to the supreme seriousness of the Holocaust. He also transforms himself and his family into a labyrinthine and playful archive. Here a curious relationship emerges with the reputation and books of his brother, the sociologist Luc Boltanski. Christian borrows with no explicit acknowledgement the archive resources of Luc's sociological research as a sub-text in his visual works. Even more surprisingly, Luc Boltanski published in 1993 HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES Vol. 11 No. 4 © 1998 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi) [0952-6951(199811)11:4;121-140; 006612]Poème, a collection of highly emotive and personal poetry about the past and the Holocaust. The problems raised by Christian Boltanski and by Luc conflate the personal and historical dimensions of the Archive

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Citations of this work

Archive.Mike Featherstone - 2006 - Theory, Culture and Society 23 (2-3):591-596.
Persian Poesis.Michael M. J. Fischer - 2006 - Theory, Culture and Society 23 (2-3):251-252.

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References found in this work

L'amour et la justice comme compétences. Trois essais de sociologie de l'action.Luc Boltanski - 1992 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 182 (4):496-498.

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