Take Care of Yourself by Sophie CalleIn this remarkable artists book, French conceptual artist/provocateur Sophie Calle presents 107 outside interpretations of a -breakup- e-mail she received from her lover the day he ended their affair. Featuring a stamped pink metallic cover, multiple paper changes, special bound-in booklets, bright green envelopes containing DVDs and even Braille endpapers, it is a deeply poignant investigation of love and loss, published to coincide with the 2007 Venice Biennale--where Calle served as that fairs French representative. All of the interpreters of Calles breakup letter were women, and each was asked to analyze the document according to her profession--so that a writer comments on its style, a justice issues judgment, a lawyer defends Calles ex-lover, a psychoanalyst studies his psychology, a mediator tries to find a path towards reconciliation, a proofreader provides a literal edit of the text, etc. In addition, Calle asked a variety of performers, including Nathalie Dessay, Laurie Anderson and Carla Bruni, among others, to act the letter out. She filmed the singers and actresses and photographed the other contributors, so that each printed interpretation stands alongside at least one riveting image of its author, and some are also accompanied by digital documentation. The result is a fascinating study and a deeply moving experience--as well as an artwork in its own right. Already a collectors item, this is a universal document of how it feels to grieve for love.
Sophie Calle / French Pavilion / 52nd Venice Biennale 2007
Among the readers were a judge, a rapper, a psychoanalyst, a novelist and a family therapist. Eighty-eight analyses of that break-up letter are presented here — hung on the wall or, in some cases, displayed on large tables in the centre of the room. All of the readings are accompanied by a stylized photograph of the interpreter involved in the act of reading the letter in question. But not all of them write; some respond through dance, recital or song, and these performative readings are presented in a multi-screen video collage on the wall. While his missive was obviously a form of rejection disguised as compassion, it was also an order to do something — to accept failure. But instead of limiting the reading of the letter to closure, Calle insists on using it as a connective tissue for solidarity among women.
The Brooklyn Rail is participating in the Venice Biennale. His final communication, so impersonally delivered—no voice, no postmark, nor presence of the hand—becomes her consummate art. In taking care, she invites others to provide explanations for the inexplicable rupture, or just lamentations in the spirit of lyric drama. By circulating the letter to women of all ages, artistic and otherwise, Calle transforms the breakup into a survey of interpretation. The format of the show, with the names of responders, their photographic portrait, and their framed accompanying artifact of interpretation, places the work somewhere between the realms of legal exhibit and time capsule. We are given a series of privileged interpretations, translations of reality—as linguistic as they are visual—rather than pure fact.
This is a strange exercise, I am about critique, or at least comment upon, a series of photographs and text by Sophie Calle, this is not the strange part. There are pictures of the installation in various galleries but not close enough to see the photos and a few individual items can be found in close-up such as a copy of an English translation of the letter that sparked it all as seen above. Luckily there were 1. If we compare her work to another postmodernist in Cindy Sherman we can immediately see a stark contrast. Postmodernism must be broad church to accommodate such diametrically opposed approaches. The lack of an unified doctrine never stopped a political party so why should it stop an art movement?
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By Kenneth Baker. The French artist Sophie Calle's work almost always satisfies my basic requirements: that art has something to look at plus something to think about. She has worked across many media, but image, text and performance, often sub rosa, remain her principal instruments. She shows how dramatically viewer engagement and depth of content may vary when she—or anyone—tries to bring those dimensions artfully into tension. In the process, she continually re-weaves thematic threads of attachment, loss and surprise, of the irresistibility of time and of desire and its frustration. Titled Missing, the event consists of four older projects staged in three buildings in a de-commissioned military base on a spectacular waterfront site, long since designated a national park. Concurrently, Fraenkel Gallery's auxiliary space, Fraenkel Lab, brings visitors nearer to the present tense of her work with a selection titled My mother, my cat, my father, in that order, which wistfully and a little wryly documents three deaths particularly important to her.