Detail Christian Boltanski "Réserve de Suisses morts", 1991


‘What interests me, and what I try to talk about, is what I call “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.’
Christian Boltanski, 1996

They were not the victims of any collective tragedy or natural disaster. They are dead people to whom Christian Boltanski pays tribute in his 1991 installation. Death and the value of life are always present in the work of this artist, constructed from portraits of children and adults and everyday objects such as clothes, shelves and lamps. The work at MACBA is an archive of dead Swiss people, comprising over 2,000 photographs from the obituary pages of a newspaper from the Valois region during 1990.  They have the uniform size of passport photos, stuck to tin boxes without names or dates of birth: their identity and memory reduced to a single image. In most, their relatives had chosen a photo of the person smiling. ‘I always wonder what was happening on the day those photographs were taken. People could not imagine that this would be their last image.’ (Boltanski, 1993)