Sophie Calle was dumped by email via a ‘hideously self-absorbed message about human emotion’. (Chrisafis, 2007), later seeking analysis of the email from 107 women professionals – including a judge, a markswoman, a chess-player and forensic psychiatrist. Her exhibition presented all their responses in various forms – dance, video, as well as written reports and the original email annotated or corrected down to the minutest placement of a comma. The exhibition included both the returned analyses as well as photographic images of the recipients digesting the letter. It rendered the naval gazing antics of the 4 women in Sex and the City, as pure amateurish child’s play. This took relationship obsession to a whole different level and yet, when reading an article on Calle being interviewed for the Guardian, you cannot fail to have a wry smile when the interviewer interprets the outcome as ‘She feared he might come back seeking a reconciliation, which would have ruined the whole thing’ (Chrisafis, 2007).
Mirroring the variety of responses from the 107 women commissioned to comment, the viewer also is welcomed to digest the artwork in their very own personal way, shaded and coloured by personal perspectives and experiences. Indeed, Calle herself asserts:-
“I don’t want anything from the visitors. They are free to do what they want. I cannot give the rules of the game of the project or give the rules of the game for the visitors of how to take it. It is not anymore my problem. I mean, it is their territory after all, not mine.” (Tateshots, 2007)
This is what clearly marks the work as ‘postmodern’, as the course materials explain…
Postmodern techniques include the incorporation of fragments of other texts, the use of ambiguous or open-ended plots and unresolved endings, and reduced use of descriptive language. These experimental approaches allow authors to let go of authorship control and major plot lines in preference of stream of consciousness, developing characters and playing with expectations and language. Ultimately they allow the reader to put themselves into the story, with their personal histories and memories playing an important role in how the narrative is read.
Calle might have fleetingly challenged us to question the ethics of publicizing an email originally destined to be digested by her as the ‘wronged’ half of a once intimate relationship… but you sense that she had no qualms about doing this at the time. In fact I took her side from the start and Clare Harris’ blatant curiosity about the analyses echoed my own sentiments exactly:
“I found myself fascinated by the journey in which an emotional incident that before our eyes has become objectified and neatly dismembered, in a sense, worked through by a sisterhood of supporters, becomes a work of art”. (Harris, 2009)
My personal reaction to the work was very similar to that of Susan Thomson, an art critic, who writes back to Sophie in her blog and reminded me of times spent with friends in my 30s, poring, rather sadly over text messages, our harsh criticisms and exasperation of male spelling and grammar, whilst simultaneously applying a wealth of interpretations to every turn of phrase:-
“I laughed out loud so many times. You pastiche us don’t you, our crazy, romantic ideas, the idea of the female obsessive. So over the top it became funny indeed. And yet, if it weren’t so funny, it might be a little frightening, Sophie. Oh Sophie, we have all been there, obsessing over a phrase uttered by a lover, which we analyse to death. What did that mean, does it have a double meaning, what was the tone of voice etc. etc. Like the most resolute literary critic, we look for hidden clues” (Thomson, 2007)
Some of the critical responses to Calle’s work that I found on-line were similarly microscopically analysed.. it as almost a relief to come upon a rather poetic yet brief phrase ‘communal disembowelling‘ (Harris, 2009) referring to the overt mass scrutiny of the text of the email which resonated with me as the perfect subtitle for the artwork. Having said that, I rather enjoyed reading the various responses and seeing which ones I could personally relate to.
The rather ultimate two fingers to the erstwhile boyfriend, was the video of the parrot eating the email/letter. I find this highly amusing as I sit here with my partner and his rather moth-eaten pink galah squawking in the corner of our lounge, pondering on the what if’s of life…
Chrisafis, A. (2007) He loves me not. At https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art Accessed at 26/11/2016
Tateshots. (2007). Venice Biennale: Sophie Calle. At http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/venice-biennale-sophie-calle Accessed at 26/11/2016
Harris, C. (2009). Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself. At https://www.a-n.co.uk/reviews/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself Accessed at 26/11/2016
Thomson, S (2007) Sophie Calle, Take care of yourself, French Pavilion, Venice 2007. At http://susanthomson.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself-2007.html Accessed at 26/11/2016