I am stunned (as was Susie Bubble, from whom I snatched these) by these photographs’ intimation of the tremendous physical scope of French artist Christian Boltanski’s “Personnes,” an Monumenta installation in the Grand Palais in Paris. (Monumenta is an annual installation series in which a leading international contemporary artist is invited by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication to create a new work for the Nave of the Grand Palais).
Susie confesses to feeling teary, and it’s easy to see why. These clothes conjure the specters of the persons who wore them in some unspecified “before” –perhaps before growth, before divorce, before illness, before death– which the project’s description would appear to confirm: “Conceived as a work in sound and vision, Personnes takes up a new theme in Boltanski’s work, building on his earlier explorations of the limits of human existence and the vital dimension of memory : the question of fate, and the ineluctability of death.”
The two parts of the installation that I can see from these photographs suggest both memorials in the carefully measured, uniformly spaced rectangles laid with a single layer of clothes –calling to my mind the sheer physical expanse of the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt— and a garbage dump in the giant heaping pile of assorted garments at the other end of the Nave. The installation thus suggests something about the seemingly arbitrary nature of human classification between those we treasure and those we discard. (The same classification that the AIDS Memorial Quilt once challenged, but arguably now reinforces.) Or, as Judith Butler writes, “Certain lives are grievable, and others not, and this works to sanctify the violence we inflict, and to disavow any conception of our own precarity.”