Research notes – Sophie Calle

The following comments are made in connection with Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself, which she initially presented in the French pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennale, but has since been exhibited throughout the world and published as a book. Some installation images from the series can be seen here (1)

I had the opportunity to see this work in Barcelona in 2015 as part of a restrospective exhibition organised by La Virreina Image Center (link). The work derives from a personal experience of the artist: a break up letter that she received from a boyfriend which ended in the phrase “take care of yourself” (hence the title). Calle was startled by the contents of the letter, and pehaps by the unexpected way of the break-up, and decided to send copies of it to various other women of various professions and ages, for their own analisys. The work exhibited primarily includes the analysis of the letter received back from each of the collaborating women, together with allegoric pictures and videos, most of which I presume were taken by Calle herself.

Like many other series by Calle, Take Care of Yourself draws heavily on the artist personal experiences. She does not seem to care much about the consequences of this exposure, which in some cases could be considered as a little bit vouyeuristic, a bit too intrusive. In this case, however, the short end of the stick seems to have gone to the boyfriend who wrote the break-up letter, who in many cases is disparraged or heavily critizised by the various collaborators whom Calle sent the letter to.

I remember, when I first came across this work, having the distinc sensation of doubting whether the actual letter was real or made up. Exposure to other works by Calle after that have also left me with the same doubts. Some of her work seems just too personal, and her commentary and imaginery are sometimes too disjointed to be certain that all we are seeing is actually as is, but in the end, whether all of it is real or just a representation of something that may have happened to her, it is clear that she uses her work, including that in the series Take Care of Yourself, as a way of dealing with difficult issues in her life, and this may be a valid mechanism to cope with this. Because this mechanism is effective for her to “externalise” the difficulties, it may be possible that I may have misinterpreted the easiness with which she talks about certain topics, like the death of her parents, for coldness or detachment.

The other thing that struck me about this work is the relationship between the images and the text. The relationship in this case, which is clearly in the realm of relay, seems to be lopsided towards the text and the images only seem there to reinforce the text and sometimes they are just there to provide a facsimile of the text itself, so as to show, for instance the handwritten comments made by the collaborator. I had a similar reaction when I visited the Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Price 2017 exhibit, at the Photographer’s Gallery in London earlier this year, which featured some of her work – link.

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(1) Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself | EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art. 2017. Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself | EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.emma.museum/en/n%C3%A4yttelyt/sophie-calle-%E2%80%93-take-care-yourself. [Accessed 29 October 2017].

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