Romain Kronenberg & ses personnages “Boaz” at Kunsthalle, Centre d’Art Contemporain Mulhouse

Janice K. Johnson


Words left unsaid are lost.

Boaz is above all the story of a story. A story discovered by chance in the souvenir shops of the small island of Procida, off the coast of Naples, the story of a forgotten voice on an old recorder that was surprisingly acquired. On an abandoned tape, the quiet but significant voice of a child tells the story of a young orphan, loved by all, whose mere presence prompts signs and acts of devotion from those around him. This story is the story of Boaz and his adoptive family : his brother Malachie, his sister Deborah, and their father Amos.

Romain Kronenberg began to develop this complex project in spring 2017, when he first came across the tape-recorder. A project that centres on the question of the sacred, which is omnipresent in Boaz’s opportunely rediscovered story, first and foremost in the pure but ambiguous relationship gathering the two inseparable brothers. For one is the Prophet, and the other one the Mystic. The sacred appears gently in the life of the young boy, Boaz, who we never see but who is unanimously admired. He is invisible, but alive. If Boaz is the Legend, Malachie, the Mystic, is the reflection of the collective fascination that coalesces around the orphan and the young man he becomes, a fascination that intensifies with the passing of time. Boaz will eventually become the willing martyr of this quest, the collateral damage of a piety that proves too great. This simple tragedy unfolds serenely, as all of its actors know full well what is to come, for the Legend cannot live.

The exhibition brings together a series of works, films, objects and documents that retrace Kronenberg’s exploration, each of which relates to the central novel that structures the whole. Working outwards from a methodology developed for his 2019 exhibition, Tout est vrai [All is true], Kronenberg unfolds this new proposition around a narrative backbone that shapes the works and images that are created. The result, Boaz, is a dense project in which form and narrative are inseparable and where it is impossible to determine which one precedes the other. The exhibition sets up a mise-en-abime of the original story to explore the process of mythmaking. This fragmented hagiography has its own discreet relics: crosses traced on walls as signs of devotion, dolls as believers inspiring unique emotions, as well as family photographs, icons in Prussian blue, and sacred words that swarm across the walls. Boaz, film is the film of a film: it documents the creation of Boaz, their film by linking it to the story given by a mysterious investigator who, twenty years on, is still looking to explain that which cannot be explained.

Boaz is constructed as a contemporary myth that draws on Mircea Eliade’s research into the rituals and beliefs as well as the Melanesian Cargo cult. The sacred aura that surrounds this project is neither excessive nor surprising, but rather a modest, everyday form of sacrality: mystic, yet without mystery. It is the destiny of those who bear the weight of a society that lacks guiding lights and that longs for transcendence.

— Coline Davenne, curator

At Kunsthalle, Centre d’Art Contemporain Mulhouse
until April 30, 2022



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