3 Dec 2009
I went to see the Sophie Calle exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London yesterday. I hadn't actually heard of her before but I've since learnt that she is one of France's best known conceptual artsists, and I found the main exhibit entitled "Prenez soin de vous" ("Take care of yourself") to be right up my street!
Premiered at the 2007 Venice Biennale, "Take care of yourself" is named after the last line of an email that an ex-boyfriend sent her. Sophie asked 100 women to read and interpret the meaning of the letter... and the results were hilarious! A translator picked apart the letter, pointing out that it had been written using the polite form of you (vous) which is a rather formal way to address a lover. A musician wrote a piece of music based on the letter, and there was even a parrot chirping away with its "comments". A rifle expert simply shot a hole through the letter! It was quite a moving experience seeing each analysis: I felt sad that their relationship had come to such an abrupt end, and anger at her ex-boyfriend for being so self-centred and arrogant.
The exhibition is very exciting in terms of the way the space is used and the experience that the viewer undergoes. To see the title of each piece the viewer must look up really high, then they need to read, listen and watch. They go on a journey around the space, sit down and look through some photos scattered across a table, then continue walking. One of the gallery rooms showed an interview with Sophie Calle and the interviewer felt that Sophie had really revolutionised the way you look at things. When you read across a wall, you physically go on your own journey along that wall.
Here's a really interesting short documentary about Sophie Calle's work: