"La Réserve du musée des enfants I et II" was realised for the exhibition "Histoires de Musée” in 1989. It is located in a space in the basement of the Museum and consists of piles of children’s clothes crammed onto metal shelves, lit only by a few small lamps fixed to the frame of the shelving. This presentation is completed by a set of black-and-white photographs of anonymous children, cut out of newspapers and magazines and equally dimly lit. A reminder of bodies not present, a memory of a childhood gone forever, an allusion to the tragedies of history, relics of dead infants, these are just some of the many possible interpretations. They reprise what is a central theme in Boltanski’s work, the fragility of memory and human life.

This emotional power to evoke things by means of ordinary objects or minimal staging is accentuated in pared-down installations in which images are few and far between. This is the case in the work Théâtre d’ombres (1984-1997): small, quivering, projected figurines evoke a danse macabre, but also the ghostly, nostalgic world of a child’s puppet theatre.

Sometimes human existence is simply signified by lists of names, as in Abonnées du téléphone (‘Telephone Subscribers’), which was designed for the exhibition “Voilà” in 2000, where telephone directories from all over the world were displayed on shelves and could be consulted. Human presence here was reduced to its simplest expression: a surname.