Animitas or the Music of Souls : In the World’s Driest Desert, a Poetic Sound Installation by Christian Boltanski
Animitas is the most recent large scale outdoor installation by French sculptor Christian Boltanski. It is installed in Chile’s Atacama Desert. It is composed of eight hundred small Japanese bells attached to long stems planted in the ground. The bells, chiming to the wind, let out the “music of the souls”. They are placed as to reproduce the map of the stars on the night the artist was born, September 6th, 1944.
The installation is located in the Atacama Desert, a pilgrimage site in memory of those who disappeared under the Pinochet regime. Due to the purity of the sky, it is also an outstanding location to gaze at the stars: it hosts some of the world’s largest astronomical observatories.
The piece, created for a retrospective exhibition of Boltanski’s work held at the Fine Arts museum of Santiago at the end of 2014, was filmed by a webcam which streamed live in one of the museum’s rooms. A model of the Chilean installation, titled Alma, was also displayed in Paris in the Tuileries gardens for the FIAC Hors les murs 2014.
Christian Boltanski received us in his Malakoff studio where he relentlessly works at illustrating the absence:
“Alma was the name of the retrospective in Santiago. It means “soul”. It is also the name of the world’s largest observatory. But I chose to call the installation Animitas, which refers to the altars that native Indians put on the side of the roads to honor the dead. I think we are surrounded by ghosts and they are materialized by these bells. It is indeed the music of the sky. I was interested in making something rudimentary in this place. At first, I thought of working with the observatories. They were magnificent but I also found them intimidating and they scared me. I wanted to find the simplicity, the softness of the sound of a small bell.”
In this interview, the artist also mentions the Archives du Cœur, a permanent installation located in Japan, close to the island of Naoshima.
“I have several types of activities: creating large, ephemeral works and creating somewhat mythical and permanent sites, pilgrimage sites, like this house in Japan where I keep heart beats recorded around the world. I have collected one hundred and twenty so far. Visitors can find the heart beats of those they once knew. I was asked to work with the great architect Tadao Ando, but I preferred a simple fisherman’s house to host them. If you go, what matters is the fact that you made the trip. All this distance, all this time spent thinking of someone before finally arriving to this beautiful place. Because in the end, when you are listening to this person’s heart beat, what you hear is the absence.”
Almas. Christian Boltanski retrospective.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Santiago de Chile
October 2014 – January 2015