Take Care of Yourself
Tallinn Art Hall/Kunstihoone
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.
Photos of the participants
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.
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.
"The choir you have formed around this letter is the choir of death"
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
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.
A childrens' story
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.
The medical approach
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
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