Have you seen the movie “Amelie Poulain” – remember how the protagonist’s life turns 180 degrees after she gets immersed in a sudden adventure with an open heart and detective mind?
This week’s wonder woman has turned her life into an ongoing project where every person and object has the potential to play a vital role. Just like that photo Amelie finds in the movie and sets the plot.
Both of them won’t stop until they find the answer – revealing themselves equally as the others involved in the process.
Meet one of the most fascinating contemporary artists today – Sophie Calle.
“The Address Book”
Great things often happen in the pursuit of one thought “I have to do something with this damn life”. Call it a mid-life crisis or inherent mindfulness, either way. It could lead to great revelations.
This is how it all began for Sophie Calle – writer, conceptual artist, photographer, detective and movie director. She is a little of each, and her work is stripping down the essence of being a human, blurring boundaries between intimate and public.
Each of her projects can be seen as a chapter in a vast overall volume of references and echoes. If you think that life is uneventful, then look at how Sophie can turn any happening into a playground of work. Like that time, she found an address book on the streets of Paris in the late 80s, photocopying the content before mailing it back. Then proceeded to call each person listed in it to ask questions about the owner.
“I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him, and I will try to produce a portrait of him over an undetermined length of time that will depend on the willingness of his friends to talk about him—and on the turns taken by the events,” she wrote.
Every encounter was released as a short piece on Libération. Sophie wrapped it all up in a book – writing and photographs touch the elusive figure at the centre of this investigation, putting together the pieces of a random human.
The Essence of Life and Art
Her biases are the controversies and mini-scandals determined by her chosen methods – a humane and intellectual mix between investigative journalism and police survey. Some people accuse her of voyeurism and intrusion into private life.
The subjects of her work often become victims of indiscretion. However, we can assume now, they are secretly proud to have become part of her projects because Sophie Calle elevates the mundane into an art form.
Sophie is resourceful with her ideas – like when invited strangers over to her house and photographed them sleeping. “Sleepers” was exhibited in MoMa – One hundred seventy-six gelatin silver prints and twenty-three text panels.
The work portraying a natural physical presence is shockingly powerful as an insight into the human desire for companionship while at the same time retaining the basic need of privacy.
There is a quote of Robert Filio, a member of the avant-garde movement Fluxus. He gives the following definition of art – “Art is to make life more interesting than art.” Sophie Cal can reverse the formula into “Life is to make art more interesting than life.” We would add to that and say that Life is as interesting as Art, and the interest is in the eye of the beholder.
Take Care of Yourself
Imagine that you get a letter from your loved one to end the relationship. A well-written, well-composed, literate letter finishing with the standard lines so abrupt in this context “Take care of yourself”. You may want to dissect this letter, cry, scream, burn it and finally accept it.
When she received such a letter, Sophie showed it to over 100 women of different professions and made them read it. She recorded and photographed while they interrupt the letter and analyze, comment, sing or dance along through their professional perspective. She went to a couples therapist and asked her to play along as if the man was in the room- “Do you know how she felt about that letter” the therapist asked, “Sophie, explain to him why you are upset”.
“Take care of yourself” is a project all about a letter, not a man. The written words are a piece of paper to Sophie – a thing to be interpreted. Then the project takes over to show us the myriad of opportunities every read beholds.
She has the power to make you believe your own story is fascinating enough to be printed in a book. Her subjects are the ordinary people we see crossing the streets with us – the only difference is she is interested and fascinated by people.
She walks around with all eyes and ears – it’s an exercise we can all do better in. Take the gaze off the phone and observe – then we may grasp a sense of Sophie’s world.
The fascinating opportunities and stories of people around us, the funky way the Universe communicates. The synchronicities point us to the right direction only if we are attentive enough to recognize the signs.
Sophie Calle’s world is our world too.