The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Artists are often among the researchers who comb through archives in search of inspiration and content. A few years back in 2008, an encyclopedic exhibition, Archive Fever, presented at the International Center of Photography in New York, presented works by leading contemporary artists who have made active use of archival images, documents, and methodology to explore the ways memory is codified, history and identity are shaped, and how loss gets dealt with.
French artist, Christian Boltanski, who was featured in Archive Fever has, for nearly forty years, collected and repurposed archives of images and objects in order to draw attention to the fleeting nature and evocative evidence of people’s existence. His installations—often large in scale and surprisingly emotional in impact—investigate the power and limits of both personal and cultural memory.
Interestingly, one of Boltanski’s more recent and ambitious projects is forsaking the presentation of evocative images and material objects he’s been known to work with to focus on creation of an archive of sound. Since 2005, and in conjunction with exhibitions of his work presented by museums around the world, Boltanski has set up audio stations where exhibition visitors can record their own heartbeats, which will then be incorporated into a large and deceptively simple project titled Archives de Coeur.
Boltanski’s already used examples of the 40,000 heartbeats he’s already collected as the audio component of some recent, large-scale installations in Paris, London, and NewYork. But ultimately, the archive will have a permanent home for it built on a beautiful, uninhabited island belonging to an arts foundation, the Benesse Art Site Naoshima, off the coast of Japan, where visitors will, no doubt, have a unique archival experience unlike any they’ve encountered, to date.