In the sky of the Atacama Desert on the Pacific coast of Chile lies a field of little Japanese bells that swing from the tops of long metal rods. The way these 850 bells are arranged—in a constellation of good luck—they represent the star formation in the southern hemisphere on the night Christian Boltanski was born (September 6, 1944). Produce with the help of people from an Indian community, the title of the piece—Animitas—is a reference to altars dedicated to the dead, installed along the side of the road in some parts of Chile. To experience the murmur of this grand but delicate instrument ringing at the whim of the wind, visitors to the video installation that documents this land installation are immersed in the heart of the Chilean landscape by means of a nearly room-size projection. Through Animitas, the little music of chance, the artist once again plays with memory and recollection, personal story and cosmic invocation. Marked by a search for universality and poetry, Boltanski’s work explores the differences between autobiography and auto-fiction, memory and oblivion, life and death, the individual and the collective. Like monuments dedicated to memory, his works, both fictional and shared, bring to light the traumas of the twentieth century by way of global installations where photographic enlargement, everyday objects, light, and sound play a major role.
Two films he produced in 1969, with his brother Jean Eli as the protagonist, are presented in the 56th Biennale di Venezia—All the World’s Futures. They are L’Homme qui lèche (The Man Who Licks) and L’Homme qui tousse (The Man Who Coughs). Though these films are now more than forty years old, they have not lost their power to convey oppression and anxiety to the spectator.