The other day I journeyed to NYC’s Upper East Side in an art pilgrimage. I had been the week before for Biennial artist Michael Asher’s 36 hour project at the Whitney and returned this day, going to the Americas Society, the Italian Cultural Institute and then Christian Boltanski’s No Man’s Land at the Park Avenue Armory.
Upon entering the armory one is greeted by cool air and sharp crisp walnut trimmed architecture. The ceilings are high and a pulse is felt through the walls and McIntosh apple red colored carpet. I paid the admission and then made my way to the exhibition space welcomed by two dueling video introductions and a wall made of weathered biscuit tins.
The rhythmic pulsing got louder and succeeds in setting a somber tone. Clothing has been spread out in organized pens that are both accessible and impenetrable. At the vertical post of each cubed section is a small speaker projecting a beating heart. One hundred heart beats in total permeate the space and resonate with an eerie humanistic presence of life and death. The immediate next thought I had was of the Holocaust.
By utilizing piles and piles of clothing, heartbeats and a large crane that mechanically and methodically lifts and drops clothing Boltanski has achieved in creating a colorful and dynamic installation that is both a basement at the Salvation Army and morgue.
I felt both inspired and saddened by the display and yet No Man’s Land is one of the best exhibits and use of exhibition space I’ve seen in New York in quite some time. As I walked through the exhibit I was moved not only by the visual but also the olfactory presence. Often when viewing art I feel it on multiple levels as it crawls across my skin and sweeps as a feather down my spine. So when I noticed it was also possible to go to an upper level and view the piece, I climbed the stairs and sat on a bench watching the piece as it exhaled and the crane dropped the clothes and inhaled as the heart beats pulsed in rhythms all individually captured.
Leaving the exhibit I noticed the neighboring rooms also had elements of Boltanski including a documentary featuring the artist discussing this and future projects. I had the opportunity to record my own heartbeat along with previous viewers of this exhibit for Les Archives Du Coeur (Archives of the Heart). Boltanski has been collecting recorded heartbeats for quite some time and is working towards the goal of having them audibly projected on an island within the Japanese archipelago. He believes that a heartbeat is more important than a photograph in referencing life, connection and memory. Taking part in the project was a great experience and I was the 897th person to take part in NY since the exhibit opened!
Christian Boltanski: No Man’s Land is on view at the Park Avenue Armory until June 13th, 2010.
— Posted from my iPhone