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The 1987 Archives of El Caso Newspaper
Original title: Archives de l'année 1987 du Journal El Caso
300 black and white photographs and 16 lights
Dimensions: 300 photographs: 60 x 50 cm each
From 1984 onwards Boltanski's works took on a strongly macabre, existential character. Archives de l'année 1987 du Journal ‘El Caso’ is a collection of photographic material from the archives of El Caso, a defunct Spanish newspaper which specialised in gruesome crimes. For the work, he recovered photographs of the victims of kidnappings, murders or disappearances published in 1987. But the macabre also makes itself felt in the manner of the presentation: the photographs of all the faces of the victims are grouped together, hung on the wall and lit with lamps from above, which helps create the feeling of a sacred place or a mortuary. However, that first macabre impression may well be the antidote Boltanski uses to emphasise the existential dimension of his work. For the generic themes he works on and for which he uses the victims of criminal acts are memory and death. He has said that he makes lists of names because he has the impression that saying or writing the name of someone who has died returns him or her to life for a few moments. In this case, it is not a matter of writing or saying the name, but of showing the faces of several dozen people whose memory has been wiped out, and which he tries to retrieve through photography. However, the multiplication of images sinks all those faces into anonymity and insists existentially on the lightness of the passing of life. But the victims from El Caso are not just an anecdote to highlight the existential content of the work. First of all, because—as Boltanski has been at pains to point out—they are real, and second, because criminality and horror have a direct relation to his personal biography. His father was a Jew and, as he had been born the year France was liberated from the Nazi occupation, he lived his childhood in the rarefied atmosphere of the country after the Second World War, with the Holocaust as a constant presence. Curiously, in his biographical works from the seventies, that memory of childhood did not appear, but in the eighties it became an overt obsession in works with specific references to the Jews who had disappeared in the war, and also in others that sprang from the same concern. What obsesses him, both in the anonymous faces from El Caso and the works referring to the victims of the holocaust, is how someone apparently normal can, in an extraordinary situation, become the victim of a terrible event, or—as happened in France during the war—executioner, informer or criminal. In Archives de l'année 1987 du Journal ‘El Caso’, he shows the permanence of horror: everyday horror, the way we live with it and the fact that that horror is not recognisable, because it finds its victims and executioners in anonymous faces.
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