On Life, Death, God and Working Very Little: ASX In Conversation with Christian Boltanski (2015)

“I believe that the function of art is religious. Don’t forget that European cities are founded on a small dose of that notion. There would be a cathedral, people would come to pray, kicking off the spectacle and at the same time, the city would begin to get rich. It works the same way today. Art functions this way.” – Christian Boltanski

 

By Sabine Mirlesse (also translated by Sabine Mirlesse), ASX

Christian: The only time in recent memory I had a truly interesting interview involved a bottle of whiskey at a restaurant with a journalist and absolutely nothing to eat.

SM: We can try that approach—I’ve got time! I’m suddenly extremely worried I won’t be able to ask you a question that you haven’t already answered a million times. It’s a big anxiety with artists as well established as yourself.

Christian Boltanski: No, I must stay here at the exhibition today for an event. But you know, nobody has ever asked me if I like spaghetti but I suppose that isn’t a very interesting one…

SM: Do you like spaghetti?

CB: Yes. I like pasta a lot.

SM: What’s your favourite sauce then?

CB: Pesto.

SM: And you cook it yourself?

CB: Yes, fairly often.

SM: You know pasta isn’t very fashionable at the moment—with all the anti-gluteners out there…

CB: I don’t care about any of that.

SM: Right. So can you tell me a bit about this exhibition entitled Take Me I’m Yours at La Monnaie?

CB: It’s an exhibition put together with Hans Ulrich Obrist that we did exactly twenty years ago at the Serpentine in London. There are several artists invited to participate. And the public is invited to take everything they can take.

 

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from Take Me I’m Yours at La Monnaie

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from Take Me I’m Yours at La Monnaie

“There are two things that are forbidden in a museum normally – to touch and to steal—and here you can both touch and steal as much as you want. The deeper aspect is the question of the meaning of the relic.” – Christian Boltanski

 

SM: Why so much giving? Why so generous?

CB: Because… there are many things that interest me about the idea…particularly the state of joy that I find people in—like children in a candy store. We had thirty five thousand visitors! And we had artists of all generations involved, older ones and young ones as well. There are two things that are forbidden in a museum normally – to touch and to steal—and here you can both touch and steal as much as you want. The deeper aspect is the question of the meaning of the relic. Ordinary postcards that you find on the street outside take on a different value when placed in the context of La Monnaie, in a La Monnaie bag, etc. Holy water from Lourdes– which is actually just tap water—put in a nice little bottle and presented just so results in us treating it preciously. You begin to ask the question of what gives value to the object. Indeed you could duplicate a Van Gogh painting, creating thousands of fakes… but it’s not possible because what would be missing would be the experience of traveling to Amsterdam, standing on line for an hour in the rain, all for just thirty seconds in front of a painting, and the painting is completely transformed. If the painting was everywhere, we wouldn’t have this religious experience.

SM: That brings me quickly to something you are quoted to have said on numerous occasions particularly in interviews in the 1980s—that art is in fact religious. Could you explain why?

CB: I believe that the function of art is religious. Don’t forget that European cities are founded on a small dose of that notion. There would be a cathedral, people would come to pray, kicking off the spectacle and at the same time, the city would begin to get rich. It works the same way today. Art functions this way. There is the idea of the sacred—that for something to be dear, or worthy, that it must be touched by the saint.

SM: So artists are kinds of saints then?

CB: I’m speaking about how it works—not about the reality, but just how things play out. In reality, one sure thing is that everyone seeks to understand certain mysteries. I always say that are locks, and that there are people who search for the keys to open those locks. But for me, personally, there is no good key. There is just the search for the key to open the lock. You can go about this as an artist, as a theologian, as a philosopher, or a scientist. Everyone tries to understand something. Everyone is trying to understand chance and destiny. There are many things we’d like to understand that we will never have sure answers to. But for me, being is to look for those answers nonetheless. If you did religious studies at university, as I understand, it was because you were looking for answers. For me, people who believe they have all the answers are very dangerous, and a question must lead to another question. It’s the necessary search for the key, or answer, all the while importantly understanding that there is no key or answer. All the answers are false. There is this search that is part of the human mind.

[A baby suddenly begins to wail in the large foyer of the museum, the crying echoing off the walls and halting Christian’s train of thought—He winces]

How horrible!

SM: I can tell you love that.

CB: I cannot stand children.

SM: Is that why you never had children, you never wanted them?

CB: No!

SM: You have nieces or nephews? At least a nephew that I know of—one that just won an important prize in the writing world, the prestigious Prix Goncourt, no? You must have been nice with them when they were small…

CB: No! I have a nephew who is an adult, who is a friend, yes. Him. But I never see his children. I never have a gift to offer to any of them. Never.

SM: And you’ve never been asked to be godfather?

CB: No, nobody ever dared ask me. Luckily.

SM: Whew. Well I ask only because that would be a lovely irony—to be asked to be godfather to someone’s child and—

CB: Have to bring gifts and so forth… how atrocious.

SM: So art functions on a religious level, we all have this quest for the key. But you are not a religious man yourself—you believe in Chance, not God?

CB: No. It has to do with what I said about Chance and Destiny. If you are religious you believe in destiny, perhaps you are going to have an accident ten minutes after the interview is finished—and if you are religious you will believe that is must have been wrote somewhere that you must come here to meet me at this time and you will leave and die in an accident that is not an accident, because it will be a useful part of some larger plan.

SM: Because everything is pre-determined.

CB: Right. But if you are like me and you believe in chance, you die because it was dark out and the driver was just drunk and there is no reason.

SM: But described that way you could argue that for you God is Chance.

CB: I just learned one week ago that in Hebrew the name of God means “perhaps” which is very very strange. A rabbi told me that. I told know if he was a good rabbi. But he told me that. I think that if it is true, it’s quite incredible.

SM: But wouldn’t that make it necessary to have faith?

CB: Perhaps there is some God, but if there is, he doesn’t care about us. It’s like if you go for a walk in the woods and you kill tiny little insects—we don’t know we are destroying them just by taking footsteps, squashing them with our feet, but we do it. They have no relation to us.

SM: Would you label yourself spiritual then?

CB: To be spiritual is to look for the key. So yes. My art is only questions. If you want to call it spiritual, it is spiritual. I was in Chile to make a piece and I was in close proximity to a small indian community in order to to it and I became very friendly with some shamans there—and I did have the thought that had I been born there I might very well have become a shaman. If I was born in Poland in the 19th century I would have become a rabbi. Just like if I was born in Africa in a village I might have become a witchdoctor. It’s the same world.

SM: So an artist is a kind of shaman?

CB: Yes. Because he looks for the truth.

SM: Do shamans all look for the truth?

CB: They look outside of reality for a real meaning, yes. And I have found no keys. Just more questions.

 

17493 Boltanski Arrivee (Custom)

(Departure-Arrival), 2015 @ Christian Boltanski. Courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery

17493_Boltanski Arrivee (Custom)

(Departure-Arrival), 2015 @ Christian Boltanski. Courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery

 

“To be spiritual is to look for the key. So yes. My art is only questions. If you want to call it spiritual, it is spiritual.” – Christian Boltanski

 

SM: You cut yourself shaving? You look like you are bleeding all over the place all of a sudden.

CB: That would make for a great interview. If those were my last words! I can try if you want.

SM: To bleed to death in front of me?

CB: Yes.

SM: So you know the American photographer Sally Mann? I was listening to an interview with her on the radio—I think on NPR—about her recently published memoir—and she said how much photography actually impoverishes memory rather than preserves it. It really struck me. And it seems to be not so far from your work, when you talk about wanting to show absence–

CB: — If I put some keys in a glass box in a museum, they are no longer keys but the image of keys. If I photograph the keys, its no longer reality, its an image of reality.

SM: Yes, of course…

CB: Photography is always of something that no longer exists, a moment gone, the thing photographed is no longer.

SM: Yes, of course…

CB: However when we see someone in a photograph, we know that he or she really once existed.

SM: Yes, it’s the proof.

CB: Even if it’s not true, photography gives the effect of being proof. But as you well know, a photograph isn’t real life, and a photograph doesn’t preserve anything. Even the fellow who lives in Tasmania who is collecting my existence at the moment, the day I die he will have absolutely nothing.

SM: But you involved yourself in that project only for the game of it anyway…

CB: Yes, because he thinks he is collecting my memory, or a part of it. But it’s sure that as soon as you take a photograph of someone, you feel their absence and not their presence.

SM: You use a lot of found photographs to illustrate absence…

CB: Yes, because it is their relationship with reality. I’m interested in our relationship with reality, and I believe I use them like the Dadaists used pieces of newspaper. Just because the once was something. There once was a relationship with reality. If I have a photograph of a dead Swiss person it’s very different than if I had a drawing of one—people won’t look at it in the same way or feel the same thing, because a photograph has this specific relationship with reality that a drawing doesn’t. Completely false of course, but a relationship nonetheless. I use found photographs because it is a piece of reality that I can insert into my work.

SM: Yet that false reality isn’t preserved either?

CB: Nothing is preserved. I’ve always said my work has always missed the boat, because you cannot fight against forgetting.

SM: But you’re known for saying your mission is to preserve small memories.

CB: I say it but it isn’t true. From the beginning I knew it was not possible, only a kind of dream.

SM: Futile.

CB: It’s a poetic idea. It’s true that for me the most important problem in my work is that simultaneously everyone is unique and that everyone is so very fragile. You can identify your grandfather but not your great great grandfather. It’s very intense to realize that you are at once both unique and fragile and going to disappear.

SM: That’s what gives me anxiety problems!

CB: In fact how can someone so unique and so important disappear so quickly? It’s a question.

SM: So all these decades of work exist as a gesture, knowing fully well that you are unable to answer. We’re back to the keys.

CB: In my first text I ever wrote I said that death is a shame and that we should be able to preserve everyone in little boxes but I know of course it isn’t possible!

SM: What have you gleaned from all this though?

CB: All my work is questions that I would automatically ask myself anyway but it also exists as examples for people who ask themselves the same questions. I want people to ask themselves questions about death, and about guilt. I have a work where I mixed together portraits of criminals and their victims and you don’t know who is who. But that’s another question – is it possible that each of us could be a criminal?

SM: Do you think you could be a criminal?

CB: I think that 98% of people could be criminal, myself included.

SM: And art is the only thing barring you from taking that path then, personally?

CB: No. It’s about conditions. I work often in Germany and I love Germany. I ask friends my age about their fathers there, and they may reply “oh my father was wonderful!” and then I can ask “oh and he was part of the Nazi party?” and they’ll say “yes, he was” “and he was wonderful despite the fact that he was part of the Nazi party” – the idea being that you can have even a charming father who happens to be Nazi. In the right conditions anyone is capable of just about anything.

SM: What would you like to have happen when you die?

CB: I would like to be burned and tossed out just about anywhere. Just not in a cemetery.

SM: A garbage can?

CB: Yes, a garbage can, for example. And for a period of time following I would like the stories I told and the works I made to exist and then one day those two will disappear, and there will be absolutely nothing left.

SM: Okay, well that’s a material answer. How about a more immaterial, intangible one? In an ideal scenario, in your opinion, what would happen after you, or I, or one dies?

CB: Absolutely nothing. There will be just a few traces of me in the memory of friends for a little while. And then nothing.

SM: Do you believe in ghosts? In spirits? In a soul?

CB: No but what I believe, which is already a bit dubious, is that you have your great grandmother’s nose and the mouth of your great great uncle—that your face is a puzzle of all these dead people. All these dead individuals are situated, completely haphazardly, on your face.

SM: But tell me something you haven’t already said to a million other interviewers! I’ve heard you describe the face puzzle before.

CB: Impossible! In any case I believe that your spirit is composed of all these things. That a tiny bit of you will possibly reappear in a trace of one of your descendants three hundred years from now. _____

SM: What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

CB: All your questions are so heavy.

SM: Your answers don’t have to be heavy though! You can tell me the most beautiful place is the pastry shop on your corner or a bellydancing club someplace.

CB: I think you can be very happy someplace very ugly, and very unhappy someplace very beautiful. The place will change corresponding to whether or not you feel well. I was very happy in certain places simply because I was happy at that moment. If I had been unhappy at that moment in my life I would have easily detested those locations. Maybe Patagonia?

SM: Okay, so why Patagonia?

CB: Ahhh. Strangely enough it’s neither very hot nor very cold. It’s very calm. I was there only three days. You know these landscapes that have very few people—for example, me myself, I was in Atacama—and it was like God was too present there. You see the stars so perfectly and so closely—there is just too much God.

SM: Too much god?

CB: They say it’s the best place on earth to see the stars, and so you can’t help but think of the hereafter. It’s tiring.

 

17492 Boltanski HR (13) (Custom)

(Departure-Arrival), 2015 @ Christian Boltanski. Courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery

17492 Boltanski HR (19) (Custom)

(Departure-Arrival), 2015 @ Christian Boltanski. Courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery

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(Departure-Arrival), 2015 @ Christian Boltanski. Courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery

“There’s this amazing thing about being an artist—a sort of distance—between oneself and the art that you speak about. To be an artist is to put forth something personal for that which is entirely collective. One isn’t sad when you work on sorrow.” – Christian Boltanski

 

SM: It’s just so funny when you say thinking of the hereafter is so tiring, that God is so tiring, because your work for me weaves in and around those subjects all the time.

CB: But there is a lot of humor in my work. People don’t see the humor.

SM: It’s perhaps more evident after meeting you. You have a mischievous presence, it’s the twinkle in your eye when you are telling a story, and so on.

CB: There’s this amazing thing about being an artist—a sort of distance—between oneself and the art that you speak about. To be an artist is to put forth something personal for that which is entirely collective. One isn’t sad when you work on sorrow.

SM: What doesn’t work for you about this exhibition here at La Monnaie? Or is every one of the artist contributions perfect?

CB: There are certainly parts I don’t like at all—

SM: Which ones?

CB: I can’t tell you that. I can say that Felix Gonzalez Torres is an artist that like enormously. There are other artists here that interest me less. But I don’t think its necessarily about the quality of each work, but to put the visitors in a childlike state. To put them in a state of joy that a child feels in a toy store or pastry shop. There for example, nobody knows who Felix Gonzalez Torres is, but visitors are happy for other reasons—taking candy.

SM: Consumerism?

CB: Touching the forbidden!

SM: You don’t think it’s about people just enjoying the sheer consuming of free stuff?

CB: No, I think it’s really about touching the forbidden.

SM: How uncynical!

CB: I despise cynics!
[The interview is briefly interrupted by one of Boltanski’s admirers, congratulating him on the exhibition and his work in general.]

CB: [turning back to our interview]. I never recognize anyone. Everybody has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. But if you had three eyes—that would be something remarkable! Or a mouth on your head–

SM: So we are each so unique…

CB: Yes.

SM: –Yet you never recognize anyone. What a paradox.

CB: Absolutely. You know I always say I think you should try to speak to everyone I the metro, greet every single person—

SM: You really try to speak to everyone in the metro?

CB: I never speak to anyone I’m too shy. The only time I speak to someone is in a taxi because the driver can’t see me. They’re in front and I’m behind. That is the only person I dare speak to.

SM: Right. So for the greetings, do you prefer the French way, with the kisses on each cheek, or the American way, shaking hands?

CB: I don’t like touching people.

SM: Why doesn’t that surprise me.

CB: When I was younger I never did the kisses-greeting, but now I do because I understand it’s just socially inescapable in France. But I don’t particularly like it. I don’t like shaking hands either. Not to say that you can’t actually want to give someone a kiss, truly, it is possible. Something I am sure of is that you can fall in love with just about anyone.

SM: But that is one of the most lovely parts of life.

CB: Yes. I believe that is you put in the time to speak to someone you can discover they are incredible. Each person is incredible. Yes, I believe that.

SM: That’s that un-cynicalness popping up again.

CB: No, it’s just Christian. I believe every person is incredible if you look, truly, at that person.

SM: Christian as in the kingdom of heaven is in you? In each and every one of you?

CB: No, that’s from the bible. You know, take the clothes for example in the next room. They were loved by someone before, they were chosen. Either this person who wore them passed away, or got rid of them because they didn’t want to wear them anymore. So they are there—as though dead. No more history or memory. Then someone walks into the exhibition and takes a jacket, and decides they like it. In looking at the jacket with love they give a new life to the jacket. A new life! And I think it works like that with humans as well. If you look at a woman with love, you give her a new life. If I look at her as extraordinary, that her memories are all exciting, and so forth. But I can’t do that for everyone.

SM: Give them a reincarnation?

CB: I exhibited the piles of clothes in a church in New York. It was a kind of reincarnation, yes. I believe that the loving look gives life. Certain Amazonian peoples believe that as long as an infant has not yet been named he/she doesn’t exist, that you can let it die—that you must speak to the baby, look after it, give it a name, and that this naming, speaking, and looking gives life to the child. As you probably know I have worked with lists of names a great deal in my work.

 

“I work very little. You don’t have to go to work at your studio at 7am you know—it’s enough just to wait.” – Christian Boltanski

 

SM: Yes, the idea to list the names of everyone on earth, and the phonebooks.

CB: The act of naming is incredibly important. When you name someone you are saying – this person existed. I think one of the reasons I am so drawn to this idea is because of the Holocaust because the holocaust is death without a trace. Nameless. Without a tomb.

SM: What do you think of the famous Adorno Horkheimer quotation about there not being any poetry (or art in this case for the sake of argument) possible after the Holocaust?

CB: I always say my work it is not about the holocaust, but about “after the holocaust,” and I think, about this quote, that eventually it will be forgotten, because everything will be forgotten. It’s from Milan Kundera, who I like quite a bit—from a moment where a man arrives to a cemetery and the guard tells him that the old dead must make place for the young dead. There are always new young deaths. For my generation, or for me at least, the holocaust, was very important. I think this desire to name, to find people, (and it happened unconsciously because I didn’t think I was setting out to do that), but it is linked to the holocaust—to try to give an identity to people. These mass deaths were the death of identity itself. If one day someone decides to kill you it won’t be such a big deal, because they, after all, decided to kill you. But if I just annihilate you as part of a pile of people it’s completely nameless. If I decide to kill you a specific relationship is created between you and me.

SM: — because I’d be special, because you decided you wanted to kill me.

CB: Yes. And why what the Nazis did is so so terrible is because they got rid of the idea of you being a human altogether. After all, if I kill you, I consider you. I consider you human. For them these were not even people. I believe that the questions I ask myself are born out of this notion.

SM: Have you known many ex-Nazis?

CB: A couple. More their sons, and I assure you its horrible for them. But you know a Nazi doesn’t have fumes coming out of his mouth indicating he is or was a Nazi. That’s what’s so terrifying.

SM: What else are you terrified of?

CB: A million things. The telephone ringing.

SM: Good thing we only emailed and texted. So this is linked to general anxiety?

CB: Listen, some of these questions are difficult to answer because it would super pretentious to say I suffer from anxiety. I am a bon vivant. I love eating. I love drinking. I am definitely a bon vivant. You know, there’s this great line from the writings of Marcel Proust—about a man who just lost his wife—and he is so devastated he’s about to commit suicide, and his friend takes him by the arm and leads him into a garden so that he can walk and get some fresh air, and he looks down and sees how beautiful the flowers are and exclaims how beautiful these flowers and how beautiful weather is beautiful and then says “oh I forgot!”—meaning that you can only live if you forget. We forget because luckily we have this chance to forget. We make plans and take care of important things – we think it’s important to meet here and do this interview – we give ourselves things to do so in order to not spend too much time thinking about how useless and awful things are. I wouldn’t say I’m an optimist or a pessimist but I like life very much, even if I know it is awful.

SM: Another lovely paradox—we must forget but you want people not to forget.

CB: I think that in order to tolerate the pain in life that we, at times, must forget.

SM: Speaking of Proust, do you feel French? You represented France in the Venice Biennale for example…

CB: I feel like I am an artist.

SM: That’s not a country.

CB: But that’s the most important thing in my life, is being an artist. Nothing is important apart from that.

SM: What about love?

CB: Yes… as well. You know I always tell my students that even if people tell you you’re an idiot, or you’re very ugly, but if you do good work you can still embrace that person. You can be an idiot, truly, but the only thing that is important is your work.

SM: Do you like teaching?

CB: Yes. I was a bad professor though. But it’s the only space where you can talk and people are required to listen.

SM: Interviews as well.

CB: Yes, that’s why I like interviews. But I do think it is easier to be a teacher than to be an artist. So it was a bit like vacation for me.

SM: Okay.

CB: I will tell you something I like telling my students. You do art school, and then you have exams, and a diploma—but they do this just to distract you from the truth of what an artist’s life is—to make you feel like other students. That it’s so important to get your degree. But of course this is ridiculous. All the teachers have to play along and hide the truth.

SM: Speaking of advice to young artists, what is something you know now that you wish you had known thirty or forty years ago?

CB: Something I hate today is that young artists are so professional. It’s the worst thing you can say to an artist that they are a professional. The worst things Americans say is “everything is under control” – that is the worst thing you can say.

SM: But what would you tell yourself, the younger you.

CB: I knew everything. I was a know-it-all.

SM: And now, you know a lot less?

CB: I just accept more.

SM: So what was the moment you knew you were an artist?

CB: Well the story I tell is that it was because I wasn’t any good at school—people thought something was wrong with me. And my brother saw some drawings I did and told me they were good—
SM: But wait, no, that is the “story you tell” so what is the real moment?

CB: That is really it! That was sufficient for me. At that moment I made hundreds of paintings, very large.

SM: And did you think that it was good work?

CB: I thought it was ingenious! Great!

SM: Have you ever made anything that you know is crap?

CB: Now I can make things that are bad. But at that time I thought everything I was doing was absolutely prodigious.

SM: How ridiculously arrogant.

CB: I always thought it was my destiny. My only destiny.

SM: That’s very religious. To speak of destiny.

CB: Yes, absolutely. And for that reason at times I feel closer to Christian religion than Jewish religion. Because in Christianity, god taps on your shoulder and selects you, whereas in Judaism you are as good as you work and as you study and learn. There isn’t this thunderbolt idea of “boom” being touched by something. I was touched by… I don’t know what.

CB: Can I say something that will bother the Americans?

SM: Oh please do.

CB: I’ve never worked a day in my life.

SM: Yes, that’ll bother Americans, but not only Americans. But you don’t consider your artistic work, work?

CB: No it’s a pleasure. But most of the time I’m lying in bed watching TV.

SM: You watch a lot of TV? Really?

CB: Absolutely. But on mute. It’s to empty your head. One great way to work is to not work. Even now if I really want to understand something I know I must watch TV, sit still and bored, scratch my nose, get depressed, and that eventually one day I might understand something. But there is no relation with my work. I work very little. You don’t have to go to work at your studio at 7am you know—it’s enough just to wait. I tell my students sometimes the only thing we can do is wait and hope. I have had very few ideas in my life, and very few creative periods—

SM: But Christian, I’ve heard you repeat that bit many times, even in the documentary on youtube about your work… about the creative periods and the lack of ideas. You repeat yourself. I’m trying to get other things, here.

CB: Yes but what you don’t understand is… I’m a machine. I’m not going to tell you suddenly that I like watercolours of landscapes and Chinese philosophy.

SM: How about this: Bolt or Ski?

CB: Not ski. Bolt. If we are speaking about objects, it’s definitely a bolt and not skis. If we are talking about the direction of my life, I’m both bolt and ski. I’m Corsican you know.

SM: I know you’re very proud of being Corsican, I’ve heard. Maybe that’s why you don’t feel French—you’re Corsican and Polish after all.

CB: But I’ve never been to Corsica. On purpose.

SM: How would you prefer to die? Suddenly? A lightning bolt perhaps?

CB: I always say very slowly because I have many things to sort out before I die. I have some things in my life, that I need to straighten out.

SM: Like what?

CB: I can’t say. But if I were to die slowly I would have more time to sort it all out, to explain things. When you have a terminal cancer and two years to live you can take your time to explain things.

SM: But if you know already that things aren’t right, why would you wait until you know you are ill to begin to better them? Why wouldn’t you begin now, right away? You need a deadline?

CB: No, because you need that. If I were to die instantly just like this there would be unpleasantness in my wake, effecting a lot of people I love.

SM: So why don’t you begin right away—

CB: I don’t have the courage.

SM: Okay. Well. I have a couple lighter questions to finish with…

CB: [Laughs] Yes!

SM: What is your favourite film?

CB: The Night of the Hunter.

SM: What is your favourite piece of music?

CB: A Polish musician who has a piece in the film The Double Life of Veronique. The moment when she is singing and she dies—for me, that piece of music is splendid. I said I’d be cremated and put in the dustbin, but at my burial I’d want this piece of music to be played.

SM: And an instrument? Do you play music?

CB: No and I never wanted to. One thing you must understand about me is that I was made for one thing and one thing only—to make art, or what I refer to as making art. Not necessarily to make money or be successful but to make art.

SM: Do you get along better with men or with women?

CB: Probably women. I abhor sports and violence for example, and I don’t know anything about good wines. All the things that are very “French man”-ish. Then again I’m interested in very little.

SM: What’s your favourite drink?

CB: Whiskey. I always say J&B, not because I like it so much more than others, but just because I know they’ll probably have it at a bar.

SM: Do you feel old?

CB: Yes. It’s very strange—I feel exactly like I did at twenty, and yet I know death is near. The big difference is that when you are young, death is for others—it’s for your parents or grandparents or other closer, older friends. When you are my age, death is you. You’re next. You know I have an exhibition in Japan in 2019, but that really feels so far away. You know I had an uncle… a strange man… who always said I can’t die this week because…Monday I have a lunch, Tuesday I have an appointment at the hairdresser—you know he was so busy all the time that he was sure death couldn’t take him—and for me it’s like as though if I plan many exhibitions for the future, then well…

SM: You will conquer death by not having time for it in your schedule…

CB: Yes. I have an appointment in Osaka in 2019. I mean what can I do, not show up?

SM: If you like we can schedule a meeting to have a coffee in 2030 if you like.

CB: That would be good.

SM: Well, thank you very much for the interview.

CB: It was pleasure. Good chatting. I love to chat. But I don’t think you’ll have enough material for an interview.

 

EXPLORE ALL CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI IN ASX

Sabine Mirlesse is a visual artist and photographer living in Paris. Her project As it it should have been a quarry was published as a book in 2013 by Damiani. She tries to interview other artists whenever she can, for others you can read more here.

(All rights reserved. Text @ Sabine Mirlesse. Images @ Christian Boltanski and courtesy of Marion Goodman Gallery.)

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