REVIEW: Christian Boltanski, Chance, Carriageworks

Christian Boltanski, The Wheel of Fortune, 2011-2014

I had the opportunity to attend the opening of Christian Boltanski’s Chance last week and to clap eyes on the man himself. I’ve written elsewhere about his ongoing and intensely moving work Les Archive des Coeurs but Chance, in its first Australian outing, proves just as contemplative and yet another deft expression by the artist of the randomness of life.

Reels of black and white photographs of the squished faces of Polish newborns, taken from newspaper announcements, stream through an enormous metal structure like a factory assembly line.

Christian Boltanski, The Wheel of Fortune, 2011-2014

The inconsequence of these independent ‘miracles’ when thrown together en masse is made all the sharper when a bell rings and the projector shudders to a halt, highlighting one random baby, which, regardless, still looks much like the next. Is this one human, singled out, destined for greatness? Notoriety? History? Or will the filmstrip crank back to life and commit them to obscurity once more? Wheel of Fortune indeed. It would be cruel if it wasn’t depressingly true.

Other elements that make up Chance include Last News from Humans, two huge scoreboards at either end of Wheel of Fortune. These counters are constantly ratcheting up huge numbers in red and green respectively. How Boltanski has got his hands on these statistics I don’t know but the flux of life is brutally quantified by this livestream of numbers totalling all the deaths and births taking place around the world in that moment.

And lastly there’s Be New. This work reminds me of his earlier work Les Suisses Morts, where identikit faces are assembled from the photographs of dead Swiss. Here the dead Swiss are intercut with the Polish newborns, their foreheads, eyes and mouths flickering like fruit in a slot machine. It’s up to the visitor to hit stop and thus create their own unique portrait – one of a possible 1.5 million combinations.

Christian Boltanski, Be New, 2011-2014.

All these works have enormous potential to be quite morbid and certainly depressing but Boltanski himself describes all his work as a desperate attempt to preserve life and there is something beautifully epic about these narratives of life and in/significance and chance that is quite humbling.

Until 23 March.