Sophie Calle: Up Close and Personal

Rockfort looks at the intimate world of one of the greatest living conceptual artists.

When French conceptual artist Sophie Calle received a break-up e-mail from her lover, she took note of the last line of the letter "Prenez soin de vous" ("take care of yourself") and forwarded this e-mail to a close friend, clueless as to how to ease the pain. Her artistic flair quickly took over, though, and she sent the e-mail to more than 100 women, famous artists or not - and undoubtly all having endured this hurtful situation at some point of their lives - asking them for their responses to the letter based on their own feelings and skills. The result is the acclaimed, large-scale multi-media installation ‘Prenez soin de vous’, showing at the Whitechapel Gallery until 3 January 2010.
Back in the 70s, Calle came back to Paris from a seven-year trip around the world, lost, without professional prospects, without friends. She decided then to follow strangers in the street and photograph them, and started to mix photography, text, performance and video, trying to build bridges between life and art, breaking into strangers’ intimate experiences, and revealing her own private life. She is now recognized as one of the best French living conceptual artists.
This exhibition is an overview of her work from the late 1970s to the present. Among them is ‘The Sleepers’, from 1979, in which Calle invited 29 strangers to sleep in her bed – and, notably, French actor and performer Fabrice Luchini. ‘Gotham Handbook’, was a project set for her by American novelist Paul Auster: she decorated and maintained a phone box in New York City, placing note pads, flowers, sandwiches and cigarettes in it for its users to help themselves.
‘Prenez soin de vous’, the masterpiece of the exhibition, was a highlight of the 2007 Venice Biennale. It's a polyphonic portrait of, and a monument to, the women involved. Calle invited over 100 women from different professional backgrounds – lawyers, actors, proofreaders, psychoanalysts, singers – to comment on the break-up e-mail through the lens of their professional vocabulary. Miss Kittin, Ariel Dombasle, Camille and Jeanne Moreau notably lent their voices and images to respond to this multimedia artwork, a journey between testimony and voyeurism.
Twelve of her works are exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery, most of which contain a lot of text (translated in English). It’s worth spending the time to discover Sophie Calle's universe.
Fabien Mazzola
Admission free until 3 January 2010