Réserve de Suisses morts, 1991

Reserve of the Dead Swiss, 1991
Installation, 288 x 469 x 238 cm

This sculpture is comprised of metal boxes that imitate aged, archival storage containers, stacked to form a narrow corridor topped by office lamps. Each box bears a photograph depicting a man or woman, assembled by the artist from obituaries in Swiss newspapers. Boltanski has frequently created structures of near identical repeated elements to suggest an almost infinite archive of the dead. The sculpture evokes the mundane bureaucracies of mortality, the contrast between the institutional and personal, between memory and forgetting. Boltanski has remarked: ‘There is nothing more normal than a Swiss person… so all these dead people are only all the more terrifying. They are us.

‘Death has obviously always been one of our great human questions, and one of the great subjects of reflection for artists. It is strange to die, particularly if, like me, one does not have a religious faith. In traditional societies, death was a little less problematic because the idea of progress did not have the same weight, and the survival of the family or group was more important. What has interested me, and what I have tried to talk about is what I call the small memory. This is what differentiates us one from another. The great memory can be found in history books, but the hoard of small bits of knowledge that each one of us has accumulated makes up what we are. I know that I am engaged in a struggle. Someone has said: "nowadays we die twice : first at the time of our death, and again when nobody recognizes us in a photograph any more". I often compile lists of names (Suisses morts, ouvriers d'une usine du nord de l'Angleterre au XIXème siècle, artistes ayant participé à la Biennale de Venise…, and so on) because I have the impression that saying or writing a person's names gives them life for a few moments; if one names them, one recognizes their individual existence.

Technical details

Original title:
Réserve de Suisses morts
Registration number:
Boltanski, Christian
Date created:
Date acquired:
On display
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Tin boxes, gelatin silver print, cardboard and electric lamps
288 x 469 x 238 cm (height x width x depth)
Meier Building, Level 1, Room 10
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Christian Boltanski, VEGAP, Barcelona
It has accessibility resources:

Accessibility resources
Tactile reproductions

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

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Visit the ongoing display
One always arrives to at something which one can no longer depict.
Dieter Roth