Sprouting from the ground like reeds, thin steel stems bend under the weight of some 180 small bells that trill in the breeze. In the Noguchi Museum's garden, "Animitas" centers on an installation of the same title by the late French artist Christian Boltanski. It also marks the final chapter of a series that began in 2014, when Boltanski unveiled the first version in Chile's Atacama Desert. A permanent counterpart called La Forêt des Murmures debuted in 2016 on the Japanese island of Teshima; at this site, visitors may contribute rectangular plastic slips inscribed with names of loved ones. Meanwhile, at the Noguchi Museum, in a room strewn with hay and dried flowers, an almost 13 hour-long video reveals scenes from Teshima over the length of one daytime. An exercise in transience, the project, across its multiple iterations, is foremost, a homage to the dead or gone.
Born during World War II to a Jewish father, Boltanski, over his career, produced a cross-cultural body of work rooted in universal themes like death, loss, and mourning. The term "animitas" points to Boltanski's inspiration for the series, its underlying concept adapted from the Chilean tradition of erecting roadside shrines to lost loved ones: In English, ánima means soul.
Such meditations on grief and mortality resonate with the ethos of Isamu Noguchi, whose namesake museum currently houses the latest Animitas—the last one that Boltanski would reify before his own death in July of 2021. "To be hybrid anticipates the future," Noguchi proclaimed in a manifesto he penned while self-interned in a Japanese-American prison camp during World War II. "The racial and cultural intermixture is the antithesis of all the tenet of Axis powers."
This past summer, a separate exhibition on the museum’s premises highlighted a memorial that Noguchi designed in remembrance of the nuclear bomb victims at Hiroshima. The artist and architect originally imagined the never-realized structure as a cenotaph—that is, as a monument to the dead whose physical remains lie elsewhere. Mid-way into "Animitas" at the Noguchi Museum, Boltanski passed away in France; he is now among those departed souls whose memories are kept alive through art.
Artwork Shown [detail]: Christian Boltanski, Animitas, La Forêt des Murmures, 2016. Video projection, HD color video (12 hours, 52 min. 21 sec., 16/9 format, stereo sound); hay, flowers. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. © Christian Boltanski.
Christian Boltanski, Animitas, The Noguchi Museum, May 5–September 5, 2021. Photo: Nicholas Knight. © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS. Artworks © Christian Boltanski.