For his forthcoming solo show at the South London Gallery (SLG), the internationally renowned French artist, Christian Boltanski is set to transform the space into an extraordinary library of some 3,000 telephone directories from all over the world. Visitors can browse through the directories, homing in on the familiar – perhaps a friend living in another country – or being drawn to the exotic, to countries they barely knew existed. Whichever course they choose, it will inevitably be a personal one and this oscillation between the global and the individual, the international and the local is central to the work. These relationships are further developed in a specially commissioned sound piece in which the names of the 12,000 registered voters living within ten minutes’ walk of the Gallery are read out from different points around the space.
Christian Boltanski’s work over the past four decades has focused in different ways on the notion of individual identity, on the ways in which we strive to create and maintain it, and the degree to which it is lost in the midst of collective experience. Archiving, and our obsession with recording and classifying our own lives and those of others, is another recurrent theme. Boltanksi’s installation works have involved the archiving of thousands of photographs, room-fulls of clothes and tons of lost property. Les Abonnés du Téléphone is an archive of the whole world, in one gallery space. Like every other archive it is both incomplete and fundamentally flawed, in this case by the absence of telephone networks in some countries, of telephone directories in others, and by individual’s exclusion, be it voluntary or economic, from directory listings.
Christian Boltanski was born in France in 1944, and has exhibited extensively internationally. This is his first solo show in a public space in London in over 10 years. The artist will produce a special pull-out section for the second issue of the SLG newspaper.