About the work




Les lits, 1997/98
The Beds
Mixed media
Variable dimensions

Christian Boltanski has constructed an installation that comes across as cold and oblique. Placed in a darkened, sterile room lit solely by the sharp glare of the neon tubes, the bed-like sculptures with their different sizes recall incubators, operating tables, autopsy tables, hospital beds, deathbeds or coffins.

The added effect of the incubators' associations to infants and the pervasive bleakness exuded by the hospital bed-like sculptures imbues the work with an ominous and morbid expression.

The beds signify the origin of life by way of their small size but the opposite meaning is called forth as well because they resemble a cross between operating and autopsy tables. They seem to be making the point that all we know is that we are born and must die.

Some of the beds appear to have been used whereas others suggest that clandestine experiments are being conducted underneath the tent-like plastic constructions. The room and the metal beds are abandoned by everyone but the onlooker. Our immediate, emotional response to the installation is the core of the work. Projecting ourselves into the room we can relate to our own life and death.

The sense of menace is heightened by being the only living person in the room: all the beds are empty, pillows and duvets having replaced the human body while making us wonder where the occupants of the beds have gone. Boltanski emphasises the absence of the living by employing cold, sterile materials that contrast sharply with human warmth and care.*

Christian Boltanski's art in general
Boltanski’s works deal with memories and the past and with how we hold on to reminiscences. He employs objects that all refer to a lived life, e.g. second-hand clothes and family snapshots. The results are evocative installations that set up vivid contrasts: light vs darkness, life vs death, presence vs absence, organic vs mechanic.

Since the mid-1980s Boltanski's art has focused on death as both an abstract entity and a tangible, concrete experience. Over the years his works have grown in scale and become increasingly monumental and theatrical, expressly stirring an emotional reaction from the onlooker.

Discussing Boltanski's works, his Jewish background and the fact that he was born during World War II often are brought up. However he stresses himself that his art concerns itself with more than the Holocaust, reflecting on death in many shapes and forms: violent death vs the ‘normal’ death, but also a metaphorical death – that a memory of someone dies because we no longer remember that person.

At the heart of Boltanski's works is the individual, the subject and particularly the loss of the individual. Les lits stages that loss: the subject was present but is no longer there. In the same manner a person can lose his individuality in death by becoming part of an anonymous mass. Boltanski has stated of his works: - What drives me as an artist is my belief in everybody's uniqueness, although everybody disappears so quickly. We abhor seeing the dead, yet we love them and value them. Everybody is special.

For five decades Boltanski has interpreted universal, existential conditions in installations, mail art, books and photography, often basing it on his own life, reaching into a store of memories and experiences to reconstruct his own life and especially his own childhood.

DK-2635 Ishøj
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