Christian Boltanski Takes a "Chance" With a Somber Amusement Park Ride for France's Venice Biennale Pavilion

Christian Boltanski Takes a "Chance" With a Somber Amusement Park Ride for France's Venice Biennale Pavilion

At Paris's Monumenta 2010, Christian Boltanski constructed a gigantic installation called "People," which then traveled to New York's Park Avenue Armory and Milan's Hangar Bicocca. It was a sort of memory factory, filling the vast space with clothing that was tossed into a mountainous pile, carried by a crane, and suspended in the air like dancing ghosts. In the background played a soundtrack representing the "universal pulse": a chorus of heartbeats recorded all over the world. In an interview before the show went up, Boltanski said of his installation, "the visitor will not be in front of an artwork but inside an artwork."

Viewers will have many ways to get inside and interact with the artist's new project for the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, honorary director of the Pompidou Center. Titled "Chance," which translates either as "chance" or "luck," his installation will involve "chance, God's law, and death," while adding a new playful and participatory aspect to his work, according to a press release.

At the pavilion's entrance, viewers will be invited to sit down on one of many wooden chairs. But this is no ordinary furniture. These talking chairs will whisper in various languages, "Est-ce la dernière fois?" — "Is this the last time?"


Next, the pavilion's interior will consist of a high-tech trip through the human race, where each visitor's experience will be different, determined by chance. A moving sidewalk will carry people past images of children's faces and make random stops next to a portrait that will suddenly be lighted up to the sound of a loud alarm bell. Boltanski constantly explores the notion of memory and in the past has used portraits of concentration camp victims in his work. It seems as if this section of his installation functions as both an amusement park ride and a somber meditation on fate, as the identities and histories of the children will remain unknown.

Side rooms are designed to increase the amount of positivity. A counter will keep track of the number of worldwide deaths, while another enumerates the figure of births. Since the births always outpace the deaths, this is a "victory of life over death that's renewed each day," according to the press release. So the message is an optimistic one (unless you're worried about over-population).

At the final stage of this voyage, visitors will encounter a wall of portraits in flux, as fragments of faces slide past in chaotic fashion. This time, instead of the visitor being transported along a moving sidewalk, the artworks are in motion and viewers can interact with them. By pressing a button, he or she can stop the flow of images, resulting in a mixed-up portrait using three different facial elements. While these elements will not match up in most cases, if they happen to belong to the same face and create a unified portrait, the visitor gets to take the work home — kind of like an art-world version of a slot machine jackpot.


For those who aren't making the trip to Venice this year, Boltanski will put a version of this game on an upcoming Web site ( for the duration of the Biennale, for a chance to "win a surprise that will be sent by the artist himself."