Saturday, October 2, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Sophie Calle

He loves me not

When a boyfriend dumped her by email, French artist Sophie Calle asked 100 women to read it - and became the star of the Venice Biennale, reports Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian

Picture this. You're one of France's best-known living conceptual artists. You're 51 and visiting Berlin. Your mobile beeps, it's an email from your boyfriend. In a hideously self-absorbed message about human emotion, he dumps you electronically, saying it hurts him more than you. He signs off: "Take care of yourself." You're heartbroken. Then you think of its potential as art.

Sophie Calle has filled the French pavilion of the Venice Biennale with a praised exhibition about her emailed dumping letter. Over two years later, she distributed the missive to 107 women professionals, photographed them reading it and invited them to analyse it, according to their job. The ex's grammar and syntax have been torn apart by a copy editor, his manners rubbished by an etiquette consultant and his lines pored over by Talmudic scholars. He has been re-ordered by a crossword-setter, evaluated by a judge, shot up by a markswoman, second-guessed by a chess player and performed by actress Jeanne Moreau. A forensic psychiatrist decided he was a "twisted manipulator". The temple to a woman scorned is entitled "Take care of yourself" (Prenez soin de vois), immortalising lines that Calle, if she hadn't had recourse to the international art world, might have read again and again in tears.

"The idea came to me very quickly, two days after he sent it," she said. "I showed the email to a close friend asking her how to reply, and she said she'd do this or that. The idea came to me to develop an investigation through various women's professional vocabulary."

At first it was therapy; then art took over. ...