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Christian Boltanski “Animitas”

The installation will be opened on September 22nd, 2023

Christian Boltanski (b. 1944 Paris, France, d. 2021, Paris, France)
Animitas (Kaunas), 2021
230 Japanese bells, Plexiglas, nylon

Christian-Liberté Boltanski was born on September 6, 1944, two weeks after the liberation of France in World War II. During the war, his father, a Jew from Ukraine who later converted to Christianity, was hiding in the family apartment so as not to be found by the Nazis and French authorities.

For over sixty years, the artist created works that offer meditations on fate, mourning and memory. Following his father’s death in 1987, Boltanski’s work increasingly focused on the Shoah (the Holocaust) as he incorporated the subjects of death and commemoration. Since this time, he also worked outside the museum in symbolic and charged places. When first approached for a commission to commemorate Kaunas 2022, Boltanski was drawn to significant sites associated to traumatic events and Jewish histories. The artist knew of the 900 French prisoners held at the Ninth Fort, who were imprisoned and executed alongside 30,000 other Jews from Lithuania, Austria, Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany. When we consider that his family lived in constant fear of his father being caught, this site also relates to the artist’s personal trauma.

For Animitas (Kaunas), Boltanski put himself at the work’s centre by configuring hundreds of small Japanese bells, attached to metal rods, into the constellation of the night sky on September 6, 1944, the artist’s date of birth. As the wind moves the bells, they produce a sound which he referred to as “music of souls.” In the Japanese tradition, a slip of paper with a wish or prayer is attached to such bells, and each time they ring, the wish is carried by the wind, as well as the hope that the favour will be granted. The work’s Spanish title evokes small roadside shrines, which commemorate our loved ones who have passed away. These altars are placed at the site where the body and soul were separated and where souls are believed to linger. In Latin “anima” has the meanings of “breath,” “soul,” “ghost,” “spirit” and also “wind.” With the work Animitas (Kaunas), Boltanski expresses the universal human desire to unite heaven and earth. Through our experience of the music of souls, he invites us to remember those who were lost.

Curator: Josée Drouin-Brisebois
The artwork is a legacy of the project “Kaunas 2022 – European Capital of Culture”