Sophie Calle is the kind of woman who you know that you would want to be friends with. Her obsession with personal objects, wry knowingness and ability to stalk someone at will make her the prime candidate for any discerning art lover. Through her work, it's practically impossible not to fall in love with her.
Ever since the French photographer began putting her work out there in the late '70s, it was clear that she does things a little differently than most. Rather than looking at sweeping statements in the world around her, Calle focuses on the personal, honing her eye on the memories and materials which manifest in a single person's life. Remembrance, therefore, is key to Calle. Objects accumulated over time take on a part of who we are and after we have gone, they act as a tangible diary through which we can be traced. Calle understands the importance of the ephemeral and finds irony in the permanent place it takes in history.
I first discovered Calle through an ex-boyfriend which, although would normally make me feel uncomfortable, seems incredibly fitting now. Rediscovering Calle's work is like stumbling across something lost in time, slipping back into an old t shirt and finding ancient crumbs in the pocket.
The first exhibition I saw of Calle's was in the Whitechapel gallery in 2009. A major collection of her works, the entire gallery space had been taken over and filled with her writings, photographs and videos. The lower floor was dedicated to one work alone, called Take Care Of Yourself. The hiding space of a woman scorned, the piece was centred around a letter Calle had received from an ex-boyfriend, in which he broke up with her. Calle's work was simple; she called on women in all walks of life, from every career path and asked them to respond to the letter according to their job. Her ex's vocabulary and grammar were trashed by a copy editor, his tone scrutinised by a storyteller and evaluated by a judge. No facet of the letter went overlooked; this was Calle's way of looking at humanity.
What is abundantly clear in her work is that Sophie Calle experiences the world like no other. In her dissections of the lives of historical figures, or her systematic approaches to food and obsessive eye for detail, she see things around her in patterns, as connections of information to be unraveled and unearthed. The world is made up of complex interlinking stories and it is Calle's job as artist and our job as spectators to look a little closer.
The minute parts of life which go unnoticed shape who we are. The route we take to work, the coffee shop we visit without thought, the patterns we follow on the internet; all of these are intrinsic parts of our being, so mundane that we don't even realise that they are a part of who we are. Were we to write down the stories of our lives, as they really happened, they would not be filled with grand gestures and sweeping turmoil but rather, late night snacks, visits to the toilet and cups of tea. Our lives are the banal acts that we don't even think about.
Calle's breakup letter was not the tortured, romantic document that her ex thought it would be but instead, a window into his flawed humanity. His grammatical mistakes, his attempts at grandeur and limited vocabulary showed the workings of a normal man. In his unremarkability, he became utterly human and essentially, we are all the same.
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