Sophie Calle’s algorithms

de pont 23 april 10 014Went to De Pont last saturday to see Sophie Calle’s  ‘talking to strangers’ exhibition.  Somehow the De Pont museum has a knack of doing interesting one-to-ones;  their setup makes me feel as if I have just met someone interesting for the first time.

It was the first  time I saw Sophie Calle’s work  ‘for real’. Although  she’s been one of my greats for a number of years  I’d seen  her work via the Internet only.  Which is a medium that suits her work, it being text + foto based. Better in real life though, impressive  to see with what meticulousness her work is presented. For example ‘Prenez soin de vous’ :  beautiful big colour prints of all her respondents, their texts enlarged and framed with care. They really fill up a space with their presence.  Question: why is it that all  the women in her pictures are beautiful? Question: why was it that the text her mother wrote was the only one that was illegible?  I knew what it was her mother writes to her: “knowing you, you will find a way to turn this breakdown  in your life into art”.  She (the mother) was right: even her deathbed was on one of the walls. Don’t yet know what I think about that …. Will have to visit this work again.

10 027I read somewhere that Calle has a need for ‘receipes’, that she cannot very well handle life unless she can apply some rule  to it. This I could trace in almost all of her work – it has an algorithmic quality.  She’d have made a great computer programmer …   Take for example ‘The Gotham Handbook (1998), where Calle followed a receipe for her behaviour set out by filmmaker Paul Auster, who challenged her to adopt, beautify and maintain a public amenity in New York. Calle adopted a telephone booth, decorated it, cleaned it and used it as a base to hand out smiles, cigarettes, sanwiches & suchlike.

Next to the photographs, he displays ‘results of the operation: 125 smiles given for 72 received; 1 shared burst of laughter; 22 sandwiches accepted for 10 refused; 8 packs of cigarettes accepted for 0 refused; 154 minutes of conversation’.  Obsessiveness, well written about and meticulously presented.

I post two pictures of ‘The Sleepers (1980), just to show how very precise is her documentation and how well, in her case, text and images work together. For  8 days she invited friends, friends of friends and total strangers to sleep in her bed, photographing them every hour. Photos and text alternate and work with each other to re-create an event that explored intimacy, public/private boundaries and pure cheek.

Question: Would any of the people she asks for participation ever have slapped her face?

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