Sophie Calle, Les Dormeurs, 1979, Vue de l'exposition A suivre au MAMARC, Paris, 1991, 176 photos de 15 x 20 + 23 textes encadrés + 1 livre + table et chaise en fer 150 x 400 cm, © SABAM Belgium 2009, Courtesy Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris / Miami ; Arndt & Partner, Berlin / Zurich ; Koyanagi, Tokyo ; Gallery Paula Cooper, NY.
Sophie Calle, Chambre avec vue / Room with a view, 2003, Série des autobiographies, Photographie N/B, texte, aluminium, encadrement (x2) 170 x 130 cm + 50 x 50 cm, Remerciements à Jean-Baptiste Mondino, © SABAM Belgium 2009, Courtesy Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris / Miami ; Arndt & Partner, Berlin / Zurich ; Koyanagi, Tokyo ; Gallery Paula Cooper, NY.
Some nights you can't put into words. I spent the night of October 5, 2002 in a room set up for me at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In bed. Between white sheets, listening to the strangers who took turns at my bedside. Tell me a story so I won’t fall asleep. Maximum length: 5 minutes. Longer if thrilling. No story, no visit. If your story sends me to sleep, please leave quietly and ask the guard to wake me … Hundreds turned up. Some nights you can't describe. I came back down in the early morning. A message was flashing on each pillar: "Sophie Calle, end of sleepless night, 7:00 a.m." As if to confirm that I hadn't dreamt it all. I asked for the moon and I got it: "I SLEPT AT THE TOP OF THE EIFFEL TOWER." Since then, I keep an eye out for it, and if I glimpse it along some street, I say hello. Give it a fond look. Up there, 1,014 feet above ground, it’s a bit like home.
Sophie Calle, Le Nez, 2000, © Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Sabam Belgique 2009, Courtesy Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Arndt & Partner, Paula Cooper Gallery.
When I was fourteen my grandparents suggested that I needed plastic surgery. They made an appointment with a famous cosmetic surgeon, and it was decided that my nose should be straightened, that a scar on my left leg should be covered up with a piece of skin taken from my ass and that my ears should be pulled back. I had doubts, but they reassured me, I could change my mind up until the very last moment. In the end, though, it was Doctor F. himself who put an end to my dilemma. Two days before the operation, he committed suicide.
Sophie Calle, Suite vénitienne, (détail) 1980, Ensemble de 81 éléments: 55 photographies N/B, 17,1 x 23,6 cm (chacun) + 23 textes de 30,2 x 21,7 cm (chacun) et de 3 cartes, © SABAM Belgium 2009, Courtesy Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris / Miami ; Arndt & Partner, Berlin / Zurich ; Koyanagi, Tokyo ; Gallery Paula Cooper, NY.
Centre for Fine Arts
10, rue Royale Koningsstraat
+ 02 507 82 00
May 27-September 13, 2009
by MARIE DESPLECHIN
"Every child at play behaves like a writer, to the extent that he is creating a world of his own invention - or, rather, arranging this world to his own liking... He plays seriously. It is not seriousness that conflicts with play, but reality."
"Le créateur littéraire et la fantaisie", L'Inquiétante Étrangeté et autres récits, Gallimard, 1985.
Sophie Calle works hard. She works steadily, strictly, purging her works of anything sentimental or psychological and banishing all ornamentation. This is what it takes to make them appear unblemished, pure, and absolutely universal to the individual gaze of anyone coming to them. Sophie Calle's work is a labour of self-effacement, something that is not always obvious when one comes across it for the first time. She is attractive – a question of technique – but one must approach more closely. When one does so, she fades; mysteriously, another appears. The other, me, you. Sophie fades and you are there, between the lines. All alone, addressed by absence, loss, shortage, deprivation. In a shared dismay, a suffering anxious about existing despite everything, and a childish frenzy to reduce the gulf between the grief and you. To remake yourself, as she remakes herself again and again. Sophie is the figurine of the games she proposes, whose revitalizing function is akin to the games children play, which are an art of warfare. The war against pain.
Sophie Calle is the model for her work – or its avatar. But she is not its centre; or, rather, she is its whirling axis. She herself transmits the force that scatters her and sends it to merge into what is observing her. Sophie Calle's work is centrifugal; what she puts into it of herself escapes from her and spreads. She produces meaning that thrives wherever it falls and which she watches blossom, satisfied and at times perplexed.
The extraordinary thing when she comes up for discussion, and it is terribly intimidating, is that all sorts of interpretations fit her. You just have to read the (fine) writing that has been devoted to her. Her work stimulates mental agility and arouses tremendous erudition and emulation. The list of illustrious figures who have been cited in order to throw some light on it is endless. Barthes, Foucault, Blanchot, Bourdieu, Leiris, Beckett, Rousseau, Proust, Pérec, Warhol, Duchamp, Klein, Rauschenberg, even Scheherazade and Buffon, to name but a few, and there are many more besides. One finishes by searching for names that have not been invoked. Benveniste? Winnicott? And why not?
Sophie's work is at once resilient enough and stimulating enough for every system to demand the right to have its say. What is funny about all this is that she does not ask for any of it. She does not provide her own commentary; she does not cling to her family tree; she does not invoke glorious predecessors whose shade would make her shine brighter. She must believe that the commentaries do not precede her: they follow her. And when she chooses bards, she chooses them from among her contemporaries; she makes them her accomplices: Guibert, Auster, Rolin. She is not at much risk. Her work is so carefully polished that nothing undermines it. What will not help explicitly will reinforce her implicitly. A little tilt of the seesaw and everything works to her advantage in the end. Sophie's work, which is not that prolix, after all (she counts her words, she compresses everything), is a source from which flow rivers of discourse, of opinions, of digressions. A true fountain of Paradise. Everything that is learned and erudite fuels it wonderfully. And everything that is banal or common equally well.
On the great merry-go-round of interpretation, with Sophie we are all equal. That is her revolution. A fine piece of sleight of hand. She has taken judgement away from the scholars, the specialists, the professionals of the profession, to pass it on to Martine, Corinne, Nadia, and Jean-Marie. To the "people" who buy the book in the bookshop and a ticket for the exhibition. To you and me. Official consecration followed popular appreciation. For someone who, in her early days, dreamed of being a "militant artist", that's a good trick. Sophie Calle, democratic artist, has not fallen short. She keeps a close eye on the price of the books that appear at the openings of her exhibitions. She wants to be seen, she wants to be read, without introduction and without any prior certificate of competence. When she reckons she has done something well, she doesn't want to reserve it for anyone in particular. Everyone has a right to it. And that actually works.
There are lots of different Sophies. I very much like the Sophie of Olivier Rolin, of Pérec, who plays, arranges, and classifies. My own is like a representation of Melancholy. She wears a red dress, a delicate crown, and has two little grey wings on her back. She uses a knife to sharpen a lance that already has a very sharp point; one should be wary when she starts to smile. A (stuffed?) dog lies at her feet. You can see all this in a delightful little painting by Cranach the Elder, on view in Colmar. You can see her too, still beautiful but more austere, in a Dürer engraving, Melancolia I. When one thinks about it, Sophie shares a number of traits with Dürer, starting with an appreciation of friendship.
For Melancholy is not always despondent. She is an artist and a surveyor. She carries with her the keys of power and the purse of wealth. She is imbued with genius, close to ecstasy; at times she is possessed by frenzy. Melancholy predisposes one to moments of brilliance and to masterpieces. All of which suits her purposes. And mine. My Sophie is Neoplatonist, humanist, Renaissance. Renaissance is a word that really suits her.
Sophie Calle is at once a writer, a narrative artist, a photographer, a filmmaker and sometimes even a detective. She inhabits these roles interchangeably and switches personas in order to play different characters, invent rituals and tell autobiographical stories. Her work usually consists of a combination of photographs and text and often adopts the format of an investigation. Staging herself as the focus of her art, she seamlessly mixes personal life and artistic fiction. She invents the rules of the game as she goes along so as to "improve life" and give it structure and meaning.
The exhibition at the Centre for Fine Arts is a retrospective of works tracing the story of her life. The show Calle Sophie is arranged chronologically and comprises twenty autobiographical projects. A voice leads visitors through the exhibition and tells the “true story of Sophie Calle”, suspended midway between autobiography and legend.
Sophie Calle was born in 1953 and lives and works in Paris. In 2004 she had a one-person exhibition entitled M’as-tu vue at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. She represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2007 with Prenez soin de vous, and was also invited by the Artistic Coordinator of the Biennale to show her work in the international pavilion. Prenez soin de vous traveled to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, and DHC/ART, Montréal.