The simplicity of the materials used to create “Reflexion” belie the overwhelming effect of this evocative installation conceived by contemporary French artist Christian Boltanski (born 1944). Although a generation apart from Charlotte Salomon, Boltanski has also found his biography—both actual and fictive references—to be a primary source for his artwork as much for its ability to reveal truth as, paradoxically, to question and conceal it. Paramount to Boltanski’s recent exploration of the power of memory and the concept of identity is the photographic image. Among his most moving works have been those that address the tragedies surrounding the world at war in the mid-twentieth century. An admirer of Salomon’s work, Boltanski addresses the incongruous nature of biography through the position of the viewer of “Life? or Theatre?” Despite the intimacy and depth of Salomon’s self-reflection, the ultimate tragedy of her life is not depicted; yet it is, indeed, an element that is inescapable for the contemporary viewer.
Entering “Reflexion,” the viewer is drawn to the illuminated images printed on fabric and suspended from metal frames placed throughout the center of the darkened gallery. The walls are covered with mirrors. The images, including those of people, are obscured from their sources and, when confronted by the viewer, remain mysterious while creating an almost ethereal presence. They are from the artist’s own archive of anonymous photographs; the subject and photographer remain unknown, and the life captured by reproduction remains a mystery. However, their power stems from the stories we construct based on our own experiences and knowledge. We are curious and question the circumstances of these lives captured in an instant, perhaps imagining life stories. Remarkably, the hundreds of mirrors surrounding the viewer provide no more information than these obscure images. While revealing unique details of each visitor in broken reflections, the essence of our own identities remains enigmatic.
This exhibition was first organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London.