The wide and articulated exhibition project, which placed the theme of "light" as a symbolic, meta-physical, artistic archetype at the center of the investigation, gave rise to a new reflection on the works of Christian Boltanski that belong to RISO Museum ́s permanent collection and placed them in dialogue with the works of Shay Frisch resulting in an exhibition itinerary that winds on the noble floor of the Palace and opens the reconstructed northern wing to the public for the first time.
The light in Boltanski is tenuous, fleeting, tremulous; it underlines a sense of precariousness and transience that characterizes the narrative and linguistic aspect of the French artist of Jewish origin body of work, it involves emotionally and perceptually the viewer. It is a dim one that glimmer within the blue light bulbs that surround the clothes hanging on the wall. Like ancient oil lamps, they commemorate a past existence; at times it becomes brighter, revealing to us faces and memories, evocative of a time that has gone; finally vibrant, while opposing the opacity of the cut-copper silhouettes it lets them dance like shadows of the macabre, ineluctable game of life. Light is therefore sign, color, essence of an artistic research that has always focused on the concept of "time" understood as passing by, transcience, inexorable passage between life and death.
In the numerous objects that the artist collects, assemble and archives, time becomes matter. Abandoned or lost elements like photographic images found by chance or cut out from magazines and newspapers are reused as objets trouvés and presented in ready-made form as traces, artifacts, relics of an existence.
To the concept of time is closely linked the theme of death and individual and collective memory with more or less explicit references to the tragedy of the Holocaust. This conceptual nature, which characterizes the artistic production of Christian Boltanski - after a brief initial figurative period, as early as 1968 he had already realised his first short film about his childhood - is declined in the site- specific environmental installations especially conceived by the artist for the two exhibition rooms of the Museum. The work Monuments - monumenti, from the latin verb "monere" that means to remind, but also to make think, warn - tears the face of a woman who has lived earlier from the ineluctable flow of history. A poignant monument to capture, commemorate and redeem the memory of a humanity made up of anonymous protagonists, there to remind us to reflect on the transience of existence.
Closed in a wooden case, like a votive image, the woman's face lets other images shine through the background. Faded and worn by time, snapshots with men, women, children and moments of daily life seem to emerge from the indistinct time of the portraited character ́s memory. The work involves the viewer because it refers to the emotion of an intimate and subjective memory.
In the work Veronique, the woman's face is the same portrait seen among the photographic reproductions of Monuments. The image, afterwards subjected by the artist to photographic texture adjustments appears grainy. Blurred by the
cloth that covers it, it hangs in a silent dialogue with the other works. Fragile and ethereal, it places itself through the sheet ́s fabric, it revives as ghost to ultimately emerge again as it was a holy shroud.
The Black Coats installation returns to the concept human existence transience, it reiterates and amplifies the emblematic and evocative value of the objects, such as being trace of everyday life. Coats that were worn by real bodies, "the smell,
the creases remained, but not the person". Our thoughts turn to the tragedy of the Holocaust and of the horrors of all past and present wars, but those clothes, symbol of human existence, in Palermo become the "spirit of the city", of its
innocent victims, of its wounds. With accents of intense drama the coats carry with them the not willing to forget.
In the installation Théâtre d’ombres, the artist addresses the concept of vanitas and of death as absence: once the physical presence of the bodies has vanished,only a vague memory of them remains, a shadow, in fact. Profiles and silhouettes tremble and move on the walls where they are reflected, creating a suspended atmosphere between a nightmare and a magical theater of shadows.
As sought and desired by the artist, they manifest with ambivalence. The magical and ghostly setting arouses curiosity, fascination, it stimulates the viewer, who can finally recognise in it the tragic sense of the fugacity of life either read through the magical play of shadows of the ancient popular tradition. In Palermo context the work acquires further meanings, connecting on the one hand to
puppet theater tradition and on the other to the theme of the Triumph of Death.
Rosaria Raffaele Addamo