Artist Christian Boltanski Tours ‘Les Archives du Coeur’

Published on Dazed Digital on 16th August 2010:

The 65 year-old French artist takes his inspired collection of human heartbeats to a remote Japanese island

Christian Boltanski is the critically acclaimed French artist whose primary purpose in art has been to remind us of our own mortality. The 65-year-old veteran has been exhibiting since the 70s and his current touring project, Les Archives do Coeur, has been globetrotting for the last five years, receiving contributions from the public and celebrities alike. The same ongoing archive has also formed part of other notable exhibits such as Personnes at the Grand Palais, Paris, and No Man’s Land at Armory, New York. The latest installment has just been exhibited at the Serpentine, London, and will be heading to Finland next year on its whirlwind tour. But right now, it’s happily taking a breather on the remote Japanese island, Teshima, as part of Setouchi International Art Festival.

Dazed Digital: What’s the inspiration behind Les Archives du Coeur?
Christian Boltanski: The idea came about six or seven years ago. You always try to capture people you love with photos: you know, you take a photograph of them to keep as a memoir? The recording of the heartbeats are like photographs: they capture a part of someone. Two or three years ago, I was asked by Mr Fukutake of Benesse Art to visit this island in Japan. I was inspired to make a library of heartbeats because it was so beautiful. It was very quiet and isolated, and you could hear the heartbeats of the person you love in a very quiet way.

DD: So are the heartbeats constantly playing on this island?
Christian Boltanski: There are two parts: one is like an office and you can record your own heart if you want to. The other is like a corridor where you can listen to your own recordings, and you can hear the heartbeats of other people.

DD: Who was first person to have their heartbeat recorded for the archive?
Christian Boltanski: I think it was a Swedish man. The first time I did it was in Stockholm. A man called me and said: ‘I love my dog so much, please can you put his heart in the library?” Now I have around six thousand Swedish heartbeats and one Swedish dog.

DD: What does the future hold for this project?
Christian Boltanski: It will just travel all over the world. It has been to Korea, Sweden and London, and it’s going to Finland next. The heartbeats will just be stored together in a big computer in Naoshima. After a few years, when you go to Naoshima you will find that the heartbeats all belong to dead people. Naoshima will become the island of death in fact. The idea of the piece is that it’s impossible to preserve something: you can record the heartbeat of somebody, but you can’t stop them dying.

DD: Are you planning to destroy the archives when it’s completed?
Christian Boltanski: No, this will be a permanent piece of work and it will be ongoing.

DD: Have you given any thoughts to your final project and your legacy?
Christian Boltanski: I think this project will be my last, because it will not finish until I’m dead.

Les Archives do Coeur is currently at Japan’s Setouchi International Art Festival