Life and death, memory and forgetting are at the heart of his practice. Initially taking the form of reconstituted objects and grotesque sketches featuring himself, Boltanski began to record ordinary lives in 1969 – his own and those of anonymous people – using family photographs.
Taking on the fictional role of ethnographer, he created fake biographies that connect individual and collective experiences. DIY, cut-outs, stacked cardboard or rusty metal boxes, piles of clothes, shadow and light and projected images are among the resources he drew on to make his emotive installations, some temporary. The allusion to historical tragedies is transcended by a wider consideration of the fragility of human life. In 1972 Boltanski took part in Harald Szeemann’s legendary Documenta 5 exhibition, which developed the idea of individual mythology. Boltanski represented France at the 2011 Venice Biennale.