Thursday, October 21, 2010

countdown to Halloween: shadows

Christian Boltanski (b. 1944), Ombres (Shadows), 1984, Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, Nagoya, Japan, 1990.

"Boltanski first showed Ombres in 1984 at the Galerie 't Venster in Rotterdam. There he suspended the figures from a makeshift metal frame whose supporting legs ended in mounds of clay. Three slide projectors, camouflaged with pieces of crumpled aluminum foil, were trained on the figures, thus catapulting their shadows onto the surrounding walls. Revealing the work's jerry-rigged nature, the electrical cords from the projectors created a disordered web on the floor. A small fan in one corner of the gallery gently set the marionette-like cast of characters into motion. Kept at a distance, spectators viewed the shadows from the doorway of the gallery and, in later variations, through small windows in specifically constructed rooms.

The room-sized installation transformed the Galerie 't Venster into a magical theater. The scale and definition of the quivering shadows varied, depending on how far their source figures were from the projectors. The closest to the light cast darker, sharper forms; those farther away, fainter, blurrier shapes. At first, unsuspecting viewers were enchanted with the spectacle of moving images that covered the walls, unconcerned with the jumble of equipment on the floor. Gradually, however, the shadows' more sinister qualities came into focus. The figures themselves, literally suspended in air, underwent an iconographic metamorphosis as viewers realized that what they were looking at was an army of hanged men, interleaved with menacing skeletons and supernatural beings. Among the group and constructed out of wire, the hunched figure of the grim reaper, scythe in hand, reinforced the bleaker aspects of this macabre dance of death."
(source for image and quote: Christian Boltanski by Lynn Gumpert, published by Flammarion, Paris, France © 1994)

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