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Calle, Sophie


CALLE, SOPHIE (1953– ), French photographer and conceptual artist. After traveling seven years around the world, Sophie Calle, back in Paris in 1979, began following strangers in the streets, taking notes of their activities as a private detective might, once following a stranger to Venice, a pursuit which provided her with the material for her performance Suite vénitienne (1983). She also invited people to sleep in her bed on a 24-hour basis, in eight-hour shifts, acting as a voyeur and taking a picture every hour (Les dormeurs, 1981). Her future artistic work would follow the same lines, constantly and willfully blurring the boundaries between art and life, private and public spheres, fiction and reality, game and intimate inquiry, curiosity and indiscretion, invention and documentation, narration and exhibitionism. Her performances and books are usually in the genre of mixed media, mostly photography and written narration. The photographs operate as evidence, validating the narrated stories as "reality," but in a way that remains ambiguous and poetic. Calle herself most often appears at the center of the narrative or experiment, for example by imposing strange behavioral rules or rituals on herself and thus placing her own (real or fictive) life under observation (L'ombre, 1981; 20 ans plus tard, 2001). The film she made together with American photographer Greg Shephard, No Sex Last Night (1995), an autobiographical account of a road trip across America, combining together the intimacies of desire (and the lack thereof), fear, and resentment with near-clinical observation of a complex artistic and personal relationship, was shown at the New York Film Festival and won the Sadoul Prize in France. Though self-centered, her work avoids being idiosyncratic; the artist uses her own self as a tool for observing the world. The division of public and private is thus crucial to her work, as exemplified by what she calls her "inquiries" ("enquêtes"), like L'érouv de Jerusalem ("The Jerusalem Eruv," 1996), using the Jewish-Orthodox device of the eruv as an almost invisible symbol of this blurred boundary, which one has to be very careful to notice. Les aveugles ("Blind People," 1986) deepens the inquiry into the way the other can perceive the gap in perception between two beings. Calle asked 18 blind people about their idea of what beauty would be like, and then displayed triptychs with their answers, their portraits in black-and-white, and a color photograph related to their answer, which of course they could not see. Thus Calle's intimate machinery of self-representation often seems to be aimed at confronting the other's reality, and her work has disturbing resonances.


La Marche, l'art. Sophie Calle parle de Sophie Calle. Conference on November 15, 1999, at Keio University (Tokyo), published by Research Center for the Arts and Arts Administration, Keio University (2002); Sophie Calle, A suivre…, catalogue of the exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1991).

[Dror Franck Sullaper (2nd ed.)]

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