“Shadows of Boltanski” by Jac Jemc

dtoD Jac Jemc
For years I saw Christian Boltanski’s work in museums: black and white photos of children framed on the wall or pasted to the edge of tin boxes stacked to the ceiling, surrounded by clear, incandescent light bulbs, casting their yellow glow on the images like votive candles, the black electrical wires trailing plainly, sometimes obscuring the faces of the people in the pictures. I never looked into Boltanski’s thoughts on his own work, but recently saw he’d be giving a lecture at the school I’d attended. I put it in my calendar. Boltanski had a translator with him to help when English failed and only French would suffice, but he used her rarely. He spoke slowly, often surprising himself. It is unclear whether I remember a lot of what was said in the lecture or whether I’ve dedicated significant thought to what I heard. The confusion is very well the point.

Each time you try to preserve something, in fact you see more the absence than the presence.

I take notes, transcribing or paraphrasing.

It is very hard to talk about art.

I write down my own thoughts.

Art can function in two ways: as relic or as ephemera.

I read to fill in the gaps.

The beauty of art is that it’s imprecise.

I put this document away.

On an island in Japan, 35,000 heartbeats are archived, each one different and the same.

I can no longer remember what thoughts are my own.

I use modern language and technology, but the questions I ask are 300 years old.

Loved ones ask if they can go to the island to listen to the heartbeats of the deceased.

To make art is to ask questions, not seek answers…and to make emotion.

I tell them, “Don’t.”

Art is a way of trying to connect our sadness to real sadness.

When we see reality we always try to match the image that we have with the reality before us.

Style shows itself most plainly in its mistakes.

I think we don’t see reality, but we always try to recognize reality.

I sold my “life” for an annuity to an art collector who made his fortune gambling.

The best way to make work is to do nothing.

The collector films my studio around the clock, whether I’m there or not.

We must not be professionals; we must be outsiders.

If I die soon, the collector will have gotten a real bargain.

All we can do is wait and hope, hope that someday we’ll understand something, that someday we’ll understand who we are.

If I live a long time the collector will lose a lot of money.

The more you work, the more you destroy yourself. 

It’s a gamble.

I am interested in what I call “little memory:” an emotional memory, an everyday knowledge, the contrary of Memory with a capital M that is preserved in history books. This little memory, which for me is what makes us unique, is extremely fragile, and it disappears with death.

In the piece “Reserve of Dead Swiss (One’s Not Dead),” I’ve applied 100 photos of Swiss people to the edge of tin boxes.

The less information you have the more open the work, the more you can think about it.

One of the Swiss is not dead, but if we wait long enough, he will be. That is why it’s difficult to talk about the truth.

Art is always something about lies.

I like to work with pictures of dead Swiss people because they are rich and neutral, so they have no reason to be dead.

It’s easier to become the art than to be alive.

You never know if you’re good at this, if you can make another piece.

We’re not in the world in a way, we’re a little outside.

When Proust began to write, he didn’t live anymore; he stayed at home and wrote.

To make art is not to say the truth, but to show the truth, so people can feel the truth.

Very often when you begin to create something…it takes over and you don’t need to live anymore.

Like poetry, it is both very precise and not at all precise, at once.

The artist is behind the glass and everybody is looking at him saying, “Oh, it’s me.”

We can only talk between things.

The man who hangs the mirror doesn’t exist anymore; he’s only what the people want.

When we see reality, we always try to match the image we have with the reality before us.

I want it to look like homemade cake, that touch, and for me my work is never perfect.

I believe in art, but I’m also a crook.

It’s a little dirty or destroyed.

There’s never nothing; I’m very optimistic.

I think very often the work is so perfect that the emotion is gone.

We lie to ourselves about why we make particular work, but then maybe someday we understand.

It’s a long, yes, it’s a life and you wait and you wait.


Dr. Jac Jemc
Jac Jemc is the author of The Grip of It, forthcoming from FSG Originals in 2017. Her first novel, My Only Wife (Dzanc Books) was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award, and her collection of stories, A Different Bed Every Time (Dzanc Books) was named one of Amazon’s best story collections of 2014. She edits nonfiction for Hobart.