Les registres du Grand-Hornu. Christian Boltanski

Jan 23 2017 - March 23 2017

Christian Boltanski. 1997 // Installation, white iron, labels, black and white photographs, desk lamps, 472x1015x19cm//Musée des Arts Contemporains au Grand-Hornu, property of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Belgium.


For me, every person is unique and, as we know, at the same time extremely fragile. Our memory vanishes. For instance my grandmother, a woman with a strong personality, only exists today in my memories and those of my brothers. Once we die, there will be no one left in the world that remembers her!

Is this contrast between the importance of someone and how they are swiftly forgotten what really shocks me.

Like deposits, "Les Registres du Grand-Hornu" means the following: I know nothing about them, they have been humans, they lived joys, misfortunes and desires yet today there is nothing left but their names. That is all that remains of them before they fall into complete oblivion: sometimes an image, sometimes a name. Although some spectators of Les Registres du Grand-Hornu may have found the names of a close relative or an acquaintance, most of these miners are nowadays forgotten. This is why I have decided to name them again: to breathe some life back into them for a certain time…

Christian Boltanski

Since the beginning of 1970s, Christian Boltanski’s work has been narrowly linked to individual and collective memory. He exposes the souvenirs and rediscovered or reconstructed objects from his childhood, creating an autobiographical work that oscillates between irony and archaeological strictness. By means of inventory, as well as the use of photo albums and name registers, he expanded his research on the standard individual, from who he patiently compiles the traces that implicitly render an account of it. From 1984, he approaches the memory of the Soah without any explicit mention to the topic. Boltanski uses accumulated photographs and objects and then displays them in the form of voting offerings, creating sanctuaries devoted to the memory of individuals that have been ignored by History.

The installation “Les registres du Grand-Hornu” was specifically created in 1997 for the former coal mines at Grand-Hornu. It consists of an ensemble of rusted, white iron boxes (similar to the ones in where we engender our own little memories) that undercover their sealed meaning. Christian Boltanski gives the spectator the freedom to imagine the treasure linked to the singular life each box encloses. In his own words, the box is where kids usually keep their little treasures but we can also imagine them as the containers for human ashes, as tombs. The illumination of this monumental fresco is provided by specific spotlights which invite to meditation. On top of each box, a small white label (like those from ancient notebooks) mentions the name of a former miner who worked at Grand-Hornu. In some cases, a picture has also been attached. These black and white photographs show children, men and women wearing their Sunday´s best, and have been taken from their former worker cards, conferring the piece an additional poetical dimension. With this installation, Boltanski takes into consideration the force of that human presence that still lingers in the place, as he insists on the importance of naming every individual: It is not fair to talk about 5000 miners. We must name each of them. They are not anonymous groups but individuals. Nowadays, we have entered a post-human kind of world, and we must fight it back incessantly remembering that every person exists. 

Laurent Busine


1994 Born in Paris / 1972-1977-1987 he participates in Documenta V, VI and VIII in Kassel/1984 Solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Paris /1988 Solo exhibitions at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Los Angeles / 1990 Solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London/ 2010 Christian Boltanski: No Man’s Land, The Park Avenue Armory Show, New York and Les Archives du Coeur (Heartbeat), Serpentine Gallery, London/ 2010 Exhibition of his work Personnes at Monumenta, Gran Palais, Paris/ 2011 Chance, French Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale/ 2013 Moved at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany/ 2015 Christian Boltanski, La Salle des Pendus, MAC’s Grand-Hornu. Lives and works in Malakoff (France).

Graduate in Art History and Archaeology from l’Univeristé Libre de Bruxelles en 1972.
Associate professor of museology at L’Université Libre de Bruxelles from 1990 to 1995.
Chief of exhibitions at Palais des Beaux-Arts de Charleroi from 1983 to 2002.
Responsible for the creation of the Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Féderation Wallonie-Bruxelles au Grand-Hornu, from 2002 to 2016.
He has curated numerous exhibitions in Belgica and abroad and has written a wide number of publications, articles and exhibition catalogues, as well as books in collaboration with artists.


Venue: C/ Palos de la Frontera, 20
Dates: 23 january 2017- 23 mars 2017
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 12 to 20h
Curator: Laurent Busine
In collaboration with: Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Institut Français d’Espagne.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Side view Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Panoramic view Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Detail view Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Detail view Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Detail view Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.

Les Registres du Grand Hornu. Christian Boltanski 1997. Detail view. Photo: Jaime Elechiguerra.