IN a billboard now showing up around New York and Paris, French artist Christian Boltanski seeks information on a relative who lost contact with his European family after emigrating to the United States in search of the American dream.
Althought it draws on a true-life event, Mr. Boltanski's billboard is more than a personal quest. Using the familiar format of personal-ad columns, the French artist's work is an expression of the depth and diversity of connections that bind not just the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean, but all corners of the world.
The Boltanski work is one of 11 billboards by French and American artists that will be posted in the subways of Paris and New York as part of a mass-media exhibition in the two countries. Entitled "Trans-Voices: French and American artists address a changing world order," it draws on artists of various disciplines for the billboards, plus radio and video spots, to treat the social, economic, political, and ecological issues facing the world.
Organized by the American Center in Paris and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the exhibition looks not so much at cultural exchange between the US and France, but at how new cultural mixes in both countries are changing how issues like poverty, discrimination, the environment, and AIDS are viewed.
"`Trans-Voices' is an attempt to recognize the importance of diverse cultural perspectives and unheard voices," says Adam Weinberg, program director at Paris's American Center, "and to draw attention in the process to the fact that France and America are both greatly enriched by their heterogeneous communities."
In addition to subway stations and cars, the 48-artist exhibition will be carried in the US on American Public Radio, MTV, and public television affiliates, and in France on Channel Plus and RTL. Exhibition works will also be presented at the American Center and Pompidou Center in Paris, and in New York at the Whitney Musuem. A symposium discussing the show will also be held in both cities.
But organizers expect the exhibit to have its greatest impact when subway riders, TV viewers, or radio listeners simply encounter it.
When audiences hear the spot produced by composer Charles Amirkhanian, they'll be taking in Cajun, Tahitian, and Laotian music and vocals mixed with sounds from Cameroon and the Seychelles. For the California-based musician, the blending of sounds represents the cultural hybrids that have resulted in both France and the US after centuries of colonization, immigration, and exchange.
The `exhibits' run in the two countries Oct. 16 to Nov. 15.