Monument Canada

Selections from the Nasher Museum of Art
August 1, 2007
Monument Canada (detail

Monument Canada (detail),
1988, by Christian Boltanski.
Clothes, black-and-white photographs, and lights;
110 x 70 x 7 inches.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Heyman.

Rows of blurred photographs of children's faces—each illuminated by a bent-arm lamp, electrical cords dangling—arranged on the wall over neatly piled stacks of clothes on the floor: Christian Boltanski's haunting yet ambiguous installation raises many questions about memory, loss, and the relics of past existence.

Boltanski's Monument Canada is one of a series of works the artist produced during the late 1980s that generally, but not always, referred to the lives lost during the Holocaust. The titles of other works in the series similarly incorporate the word "monument," "altar," or "archive," each characterized by the solemnity of a memorial, even if the identities of the persons remain unspecified and unknown to us, blurred so as to be individually unrecognizable.

Boltanski's work is complex—it is conceptual, exploring the role of the photograph itself as a relic in its own right, with, as one writer notes, the "ghostly play of absence and presence." Who are these children? What happened to their lives? We do not know. The artist withholds most clues, having re-photographed these portraits from yearbooks and, thus, removed them from any original  context.

Boltanski's works elicit emotional responses, and yet ambiguity prevails, even frustrates, as if an analogy to the fading of history and memory.