We trekked to the Grand Palais one Sunday to see Christian Boltanski’s Personnes, the third installation in the Monumenta series. Boltanski had scheduled his exhibit to be shown during the coldest time of the year, and then the heating was off as well, so you can imagine how cold and pissed off I was after standing in line outside for 30 minutes to get tickets.

But once inside, everything sort of comes together, and even the freezing temperature makes sense. Used coats are arranged to form neat squares on the floor, rusty poles at the corners and a light tube in between; sixty-nine squares of cloth that make you wonder about the people who wore them. At the very end is a mountain of clothes and a crane hovering over it. The crane grabs a handful of clothes with its claws, makes a slow ascent, and then releases the clothes into the air so they flutter back down into the pile, over and over.

What completes the atmosphere is the sound. A rhythmic beat, but not steady. Sixty-nine recorded heartbeats echoing throughout the vast space of the Grand Palais. It’s quiet enough to be disturbing. It feels like being surrounded by hundreds of ghosts.

Shivering in my coat, I think of how appropriate the title of the exhibition is. Personnes. In French it means nobody. And also, somebody.

Currently listening to:
Grizzly Bear

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