‘I want to talk to all people, fall in love with all the girls’

In Athens briefly for the opening of an exhibition organized by the National Museum of Modern Art titled «The Grand Promenade» – set up along the pedestrian walkways of Dionysiou Areopagitou, Apostolou Pavlou and Ermou streets as well as in surrounding buildings in this downtown Athens district, Christian Boltanski, a celebrated French artist with Jewish roots, agreed to do an impromptu interview. Much of the overtones of Boltanski’s remarks concerned the latest round of conflict in the Middle East. His work deals mostly with memory and faces that no longer exist, as was also the case with his contribution to the Athens exhibition. Boltanski printed an image of the face of late Greek artist Bia Davou onto curtains fitted onto the upper-level windows of the Greek Archaeologists’ Society building on Ermou Street. The image-adorned curtains, left to swing freely with the breeze, are possibly the exhibition’s most impressive feature. The exhibition runs through September 29. What prompts you to tell stories with your works? My objective as an artist is to move the emotions of people and raise questions. I don’t like to narrate with words, but with images and feelings. I like to create works that give the viewer a gut reaction. You said that you’re interested in [posing] questions. What about their answers? My job is to pose questions, not answer them. After all, artists are the only ones brave enough to not provide answers. Politicians must always give the impression that they have an answer. Are you satisfied with the works you’ve created until now? It doesn’t make me feel happy to be an artist. You don’t have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Some artists enjoy a constant flow of ideas. I don’t. I couldn’t say that I work. In all honesty, I’m lazy. I sit at the workshop and whinge. I watch television. When I have an idea, I churn out the work in 10 minutes. Some of the artists that emerged in the 1990s became stars very quickly. How does this modern star system in the visual arts seem to you? These days, the objective for an artist is not to be good but to sell. It’s bad to create art just for the money. I’m not wealthy. But if I had a villa in Saint Tropez and a loft in New York, I’d be poor from an artistic point of view. I’d have to sell to maintain the houses… In my situation, I do whatever I please. The work for Greece will be destroyed, not sold. Following exhibitions, about 60 to 70 percent of my works are either destroyed or recycled into new works. That, for me, is a responsible approach. Twenty years ago, art critics had the power in their hands. Nowadays, it’s the auctioneers and collectors who have it. Art has lost and money has won. You seem to preserve the child in you. Does this give you energy? I’m like a big baby. Like a beast. I want to talk to all the people. But there are so many and I don’t have the time. I want to fall in love with all the pretty girls… Again, I don’t have the time. I feel that I’ve missed out on the opportunity to meet all the splendid people who exist around me. I often sit in the workshop feeling depressed. I adore life. I would advise you to waste time with people – ask them about their favorite colors and foods. All the things that make them different. Because one day they’re going to die, and all the information they carry inside them will get lost. Saint to human How did you feel when [Zinedine] Zidane headbutted [Marco] Materazzi [in the recent soccer World Cup final]? I always agree with the things Zizou does. He’s a saint. If Materazzi said something derogatory about his mother, then he did very well. Look at it from another vantage point. A soccer match is similar to an ancient tragedy. Zidane is the lead actor, a demigod who always had control and was an exemplary figure for the rest. A minute before the performance ends, he suddenly becomes human and loses control. That’s the beauty of human nature. Zidane destroyed his image without being able to rectify it. On the other hand, he came across as human, and that is the most important thing of all. But they’ll be proud of him in his poor old neighborhood in Marseille. You live in Paris. What’s your opinion about the riots in the suburbs last October? I’m an artist and artists can only talk about art. It’s a strange situation in France. I’m also an immigrant. My Jewish grandfather came to the country to work as a laborer. My father studied medicine and I became an artist. This means that the family has assimilated into French society. Those were different times. Nowadays, I live in the French suburbs, in Malakov, along with numerous other immigrants. It frightens me to see a growing number of girls walking about with headscarves. It wasn’t so in the past. It may seem extreme to you, but when I take my clothes to the local dry cleaner I don’t give my real surname, which is Jewish. I don’t even tell taxi drivers that I’m Jewish. I don’t believe that I’m in danger, but I do feel better when I don’t reveal my identity. It can’t be said that France is a country with an anti-Semitic mentality, but things aren’t always rosy. Both the extreme right and left are anti-Jewish. Rightly so, sometimes. But they’ve formed a strange alliance on this theme. A united Mideast What’s your opinion on the Middle East crisis? The state of Israel exists because no countries wanted Jews on their land following World War II. Later on, though, lots of mistakes were committed by the Jewish side. But what can you do about it now? Abolish this state? I wouldn’t want that to happen. The best solution would be for the Middle East to be like the European Union: a free Palestinian state, a free Lebanon and a free Israel.

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