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SOPHIE CALLE - b. France 1953. Lives and works in Paris

Sophie Calle is a French artist who works with photographs and performances, placing herself in situations almost as if she and the people she encounters were fictional. She also imposes elements of her own life onto public places creating a personal narrative where she is both author and character. She has been called a detective and a voyeur and her pieces involve serious investigations as well as natural curiousity.

In 1980 Calle made a piece called 'Suite Vénitienne' in which she followed a man she had met at a party to Venice and continued to follow and photograph him there for two weeks.

The Hotel
A year later she returned to Venice where she got a temporary job as a chambermaid. She made a piece of work about her imagined ideas of who the hotel guests were, based on their personal belongings.

"For each room there was a photograph of the bed undone, of other objects in the room, and a description day by day of what I found there." Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle - The Hotel; Room 46. 1986 (2)

Photograph from "La Filature - The Shadow." 1981 (3)

"...These works had involved me so much in the act of following that I wanted, in a certain way, to reverse these relationships. So I asked my mother to hire a private detective to follow me, without him knowing that I had arranged it, and to provide photographic evidence of my existence." Sophie Calle

Calle's work is very much tied up with a process. Her art unfolds as she goes through each stage of preparation and execution. As she descibes (below), the form of the final product - the thing which the gallery viewer actually sees - is the least significant part.

"For 'The Hotel' I spent one year to find the hotel, I spent three months going through the text and writing it, I spent three months going through the photographs and I spent one day deciding it would be this size and this frame...it's the last thought in the process." Sophie Calle

La Filature - The Shadow
In 'The Shadow', (left) although Sophie Calle knew she would be followed and photographed as she went about her daily life in Paris, she had no idea which day the detective would be following her.

She kept an itinerary of her own movements and wrote a description of what happened each day as well as making a series of photographs of what she saw herself.

These two contrasting points of view of the same period of time - the detectives' report and photos and her own diary and self-portaits - were exhibited as the final piece of work.

Calle has often written about her own life as if it were a fictional narrative but she has also been featured as a character and her own art activities have punctuated the narrative in "Leviathan", a novel by American writer Paul Auster. More recently they have collaborated on another project and publication 'Double Game/Gotham handbook'.

Calle, from La Visite Guidée, 1996 (4)

"...When I went to her house to find a memento of her, I chose the TV guide that was still on a table by the television: her last issue of Tele Star. For my grandmother and her home, life had stopped the week of the 16th to the 22nd August, 1986."
Sophie Calle

This piece of work (left), later published as the book "La Visite Guidée", was a tour with audioguide, of the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam made in 1994. Calle's personal possesions were placed in the display cases throughout the museum, scattered amongst the museums own treasures. The soundtrack offered Calle's autobiographical recollections of these objects.

Sophie Calle's work inhabits a space between fact and fiction. She crosses private boundaries to explore the meanings which might be hidden there and exploits public spaces, investing them with a sense of intimacy.

IMAGINE YOU ARE VISITING EARTH FOR THE FIRST TIME....

  • What would you make or do, inspired by this artist's work?

  • Look around you and describe what you see as if you were seeing it for the first time. What do you notice first? Look again and begin to see the more complex relationships between spaces and people. Look at the habits and rituals people go through as they go about their daily lives, working, playing, shopping etc. Perhaps you could make a video diary for people from a completely different society. It could be a record for people in the future, of life on earth as you see it, at the end of the 20th century.
  • Take a bus journey and notice your fellow passengers. Who do you think they are? If you were to keep a diary of everything you saw and everyone you encountered for 24hours, including snatches of conversation, what would you write. Imagine how that description might read a year later...