18 December 2011

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself

Take Care of Yourself
Sophie Calle
Tallinn Art Hall/Kunstihoone
Relational art/photography

It all started with Sophie Calle recieving an email from her boyfriend, where he ended their relationship. The email ended with the words "Take care of yourself." The exhibition was made for the French pavillion at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
Photos of the participants

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
Exhibition view

She distributed the text to 107 different women, who all interpreted the letter according to their own profession. Thus the letter is psychoanalyzed, turned into code language, used as target for shooting, turned into a childrens' book and a romantic story, danced, sung, textanalyzed by a schoolgirl, used as background for a medical prescription, and analyzed according to syntax, use of words and so on, all in 107 totally different ways. Each interpretation is followed by a photo or a video of the woman.You can spend hours in the gallery reading all the texts and watching the videos.

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
Syntax approach

The idea is wonderful: Take any text and see how it is percieved by different people according to their background. It is great fun to see how the profession influences on the result. In this way the exhibition could just be a harmless portrait series of a random set of women and their ways of thinking.

But it is not harmess, due to the text in question, its origin and its contents. This is an important text, sent from someone important for the artist, and the content is dynamite. By distributing the email, Sophie Calle is not only sharing her troubles with the other women, she is making it public, visible for all the exhibition visitors. She is forcing her private matters onto the public. This act is at the same time both understandable and problematic. Sharing your grief with friends is a natural way of coping with problems. But sharing it with everyone could easily be regarded as self-centered and egoistic. This smells of revenge, even if Calle claims this is not the case. One of the women comments: she is mobilising hordes of women on an attack of the guy, while she should rather have dealt with it herself.

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself 
"The choir you have formed around this letter is the choir of death"

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
Structural approach

Calle also set focus on the feminine approach to a text: "What did he really mean, why did he choose these exact words, maybe there is some hidden meaning?" Showing how many ways any text can be percieved, this can be seen as a critique of this wish to interpret everything. Maybe the letter is nothing more than a guy ending a relationship, decorating the content with random words and sentences. Maybe he did not mean anything about the ending "Take care of yourself", maybe it was just an empty phrase.

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
A childrens' story

This is not the first time Calle deals with the intimate private sphere, and balance of the border of what is ethical acceptable. Here lies the power and controversy of her art. She is taking advantage of her ex-boyfriend, using him in art (probably) without his consent. Are we accepting this? Are we accepting that he is not given any possibility to defend himself? Or is he represented well enough by the letter? Or maybe, by writing such a letter, does he deserve to be turned into a scapegoat? Our feelings are involved, our ethical judgement is triggered, we become part of the artwork.

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
The medical approach

Somehow I also think: how fortunate that Sophie Calle recieved this email. A love letter would not have hade the same potential, would it? Is this what triggers the artist, a challenge? Is suffering needed to make great art? And, honestly, is the letter real? If it is not, would that change something?

Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
Videos of the participants

The most direct approach is made by the only non-human participant, a parrot. According to the concept it must be female, but I am seriously wondering whether it might be male. (Who can tell anyway.) It does not care at all about what is written on the paper, it just eats it and gets over it.


Exhibition page here