Sophie Calle’s ‘Take Care of Yourself’
Sophie Calle is a conceptual artist and combines ‘performance’ with photography. For Calle:
The modes of voyeurism and curiosity about the other so integral to documentary are isolated and magnified in work that parades itself as autobiographical and confessional. It breaks with the documentary tradition in that the photographer is present and performs in her work (Durden, 2014: 324).
‘Take Care of Yourself’ echoes an earlier work ‘Exquisite Pain’ (Calle, 2005). That book recalls the experience of a breakup with her lover and:
composed of photographs, reproduced love letters, air tickets and passages from remembered conversations, takes the reader through the 92 days leading up to her abandonment, and the three months of recovery that followed (Gentleman, 2004).
Similarly ‘Take Care of Yourself’ is Calle’s artist response to being ‘dumped’ by a boyfriend by means of an emailed message: she distributed the message (which concluded with the words ‘take care of yourself’) to 107 women professionals, photographed them reading it and asked them to analyse it using their particular professional skill set – ‘from actresses and musicians to a criminologist and philologist’ (Luke, 2009), ‘a lawyer, a clown, a young teen, a police commissioner, a singer, an actress, a cartoonist, a comedian (with inflatable dolls and other paraphernalia), a professor, a dancer, a proofreader’ (Polly-Vous Francais, 2008). Clearly the work qualify as ‘autobiographical and confessional’ with the photographer being present (above).
The exhibition of the work takes the form of texts, photographs and videos of the letter being read, sung, danced and acted out by the 107 different women. One critic observed:
A video that I thought stood out particularly strong was a response to the letter by a woman called Meriem Menant. Meriem Menant acted the letter out (in French, as Sophie Calle was born in Paris so her natural language was French) dressed as a clown. I thought this particular response communicated the response of the shock and other various emotions expressed in the letter well. Menant analysed the language as she was reading the letter by talking to herself and discussing the letter and saying things such as “this bit is very positive , yes” and shouting “BRACKETS! BRACKETS” HE HAS USED BRACKETS!” , this shows the personality of the clown and makes the video enjoyable to watch, but the expressions on her face show a more serious side to the story and show the many different emotions that might of been going round Sophie Calle’s letter when she read it for the first time herself.
As well as videos, there were other responses to the letter such as a chart showing the word length of each line of the letter, complete with an average word length for each line, the letter written entirely in text language and the letter written out with certain words and phrases highlighted in another colour and then analysed of their meanings at the side, which I think helped communicate the understanding of the letter very well (Lawes, s.d)
A ‘flavour’ of the work as exhibited can be obtained from photographs taken at the Venice Biennale 2007 52nd International Art Exhibition (see figs. 1 to 6.); also video recording taken at this exhibition (Sophie Calle, Detail from Take Care of Yourself, 2007, 2007).
A feature of the postmodern derived from semiotic sign theory is:
the belief that things in the world – literary texts, images, and what have you – do not wear their meanings on their sleeves. They must be deciphered, or decoded, in order to be understood. In other words, things have a ‘deeper structure’ than common sense permits us to comprehend (Grundberg, 2003, 164-179).
In ‘Take Care of Yourself ‘ Calle combines this ‘decoding’ with another feature common to the postmodern, that of the ‘everyday’. Thus, her boyfriend’s message is not a literary text but an ‘everyday’ message which is subjected to a deep analysis in order to ‘decipher’ or ‘decode’ it; this reinforces and examines the postmodern idea (perhaps to exhaustion) that meaning is hidden and needs to be revealed. Andy Grunberg (2003) quotes the literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton that ‘structuralism [postmodern theory of language and knowledge] is the modern inheritor of this belief that reality, and our experience of it, are discontinuous with each other’ — a belief, Eagleton suggests, that runs historically from Copernicus, to Marx to Freud.
The material of ‘Take Care of Yourself’ is ‘all recorded on video, audio, origami, opera, ink, whatever medium’ (Polly-Vous Francais, 2008). The work therefore complies with another concept of postmodernist style, that is:
that it should consist of a mixture of media, thereby dispelling modernism’s fetishistic concentration on the medium as message – painting about painting, photography about photography, and so on. For example, one could make theatrical paintings, or filmic photographs, or combine pictures with the written word (Grundberg, 2003: 164-179).
This post continues at Research Point #2 At: https://cormac513273.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/research-point-post-2/
Calle, Sophie (2005) Exquisite Pain. London: Thames & Hudson
Coulter-Smith, Graham (2007) Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself, 2007 Venice Biennale [online] At: http://artintelligence.net/review/?p=147 (Accessed on 22.10.14)
Durden, Paul (2014) Photography Today. New York: Phaidon
Gentleman, Amelia (2004) ‘The worse the break-up, the better the art’ [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/dec/13/art.art (Accessed on 22.10.14)
Grundberg, Andy (2003) ‘The Crisis of the Real’ In: Wells (ed.) The Photography Reader. London: Routledge. pp. 164-179
Luke, Ben (2009) The joy of text with Sophie Calle [online] At: http://www.standard.co.uk/arts/the-joy-of-text-with-sophie-calle-7417219.html (Accessed on 22.10.14)
Lawes, Kathryn (s.d) Sophie Calle analysis [online] At: http://cargocollective.com/kathrynlawes/Sophie-Calle-analysis (Accessed on 22.10.14)
Polly-Vous Francais (2008) Prenez Soin de Vous/Take Care of Yourself [online] At: http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.ie/2008/04/prenez-soin-de-voustake-care-of.html (Accessed 23.10.14)
Sophie Calle, Detail from Take Care of Yourself, 2007
List of Illustrations
Figures 1 to Figure 6. Coulter-Smith, Graham (2007) Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself, 2007 Venice Biennale At: http://artintelligence.net/review/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/installationview.jpg