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26.8.09

Christian Boltanski Bets Against the House

Christian Boltanski, one of France's most important conceptual artists (see some more of his work toward the bottom of this post), continues to make waves. After creating a library of recorded heartbeats that will be housed on a Japanese island, Boltanski has struck an unusual deal with a man in Tasmania. This man used his extraordinary mathematical gifts to amass a huge fortune by gambling, until he was banned from every casino in the world. He wanted to add something by Boltanski to his art collection, and the artist decided to appeal to the man's love of gambling, as Boltanski explained in an interview with Philippe Dagen (Christian Boltanski : "Je joue une partie contre le diable", July 30) for Le Monde (my translation):

"Beginning on January 1, 2010, four cameras will film the rest of my life and relay it live, up to the moment of my death. That's the main idea. The images will be broadcast live to a cave on his property, but he will be forbidden to interrupt the live broadcast and to show taped excerpts because they might be more interesting. The cave will be open to everyone, to whoever might want to see me living, doing nothing, speaking with you, eating, or sleeping. In Tasmania, the crowds should not be too large.

This morning, with his agent, we discussed a payment plan en viager [in which the seller of a house continues to live in the property until his death, while the buyer pays the mortage, gaining the property when the seller dies]. If I die in the next eight years, he profits. If I live longer than eight years, he loses money. He will pay more than he should have. Since he never loses, he is crowing about having conquered fate. But who can say such a thing other than the devil? So, I am playing a hand against the devil, and I really hope I win. Let's be grandiloquent: it is like the chess match against death in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.
Boltanski will celebrate his 65th birthday next month. He goes on to say later in the interview that there are four or five essential, unchanging questions asked in his art, including love, nature, sex, death. "My job," he said, "is to ask these questions with forms, sound, light, to ask them with anything but words." Boltanski insists more than once that he is a traditional artist in the old style: he has no assistants or secretary, because to pay for them would put too much pressure on him to sell his work. "I am not the boss of a little company," he adds, "which is something I see far too often." When he was young, the most important people were critics; then it became the curators of exhibits; now it is all about the price tag, which he calls "a sign of intellectual weakening, a sad debasement through speculation."

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