“I received an email telling me it was over. I didn’t know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me. It ended with the words, ‘Take care of yourself’.”
French conceptual artist, Sophie Calle, mixes imagery and text in such a poetic way that it evokes the kind of response usually reserved for epic literature…and maybe that’s just what it is. Her work addresses the most ordinary human tendencies and offers a vulnerability that’s hard to match.
Sophie Calle was born in Paris in 1953. Since the 1980s, her work has been shown in galleries and museums that span the globe, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and Paris’s Centre Pompidou, to name a few. What usually starts out as an exhibition often turns into a book, and Calle has published several throughout the years.
Calle says of her start in the art world, “I had no friends; I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I started to follow people. Establishing rules and following them is restful. If you follow someone, you don’t have to wonder where you’re going to eat. They take you to their restaurant. The choice is made for you” and thus began her body of work, using her curiosity in other people’s lives as her muse.
However, in Take Care of Yourself, Calle turned the table and asked her subjects to become the microscope into her own inner workings. Originally published in her native French and entitled, Prenez soin de vous, Take Care of Yourself is often personal and always beautiful. It began as a exhibition created by Calle for the French Pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biannale. It all started with Sophie Calle receiving an email from her boyfriend, where he ended their relationship.
Calle puts it like this, “I received an email telling me it was over. I didn’t know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me. It ended with the words, ‘Take care of yourself’. And so I did. I asked 107 women (including two made from wood and one with feathers), chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret this letter. To analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it. Dissect it. Exhaust it. Understand it for me. Answer for me. It was a way of taking the time to break up. A way of taking care of myself”.
The resulting body of work is a virtual tour de force of 107 different feminine responses, executed in a wide range of media – a corrected version done by a female copyeditor, filmed performances by female actresses and directors, a child’s fairytale by an author, the premonitions of a clairvoyant, a statistical analysis of the e-mail text graphed by a statistician, a dance, a returned copy of the letter riddled with holes after being used as target practice by a female sharpshooter, a song, a crossword puzzle, a rebuttal by a defense attorney, and even the unconventional responses of a parrot and two puppets (the feathered and wooden women Calle refers to in her summation). Examining the conditions and possibilities of human emotions, Take Care of Yourself opens up ideas about love and heartache, gender and intimacy, labor and identity. It’s hard to get your hands on a copy, but if you can, its worth it, and if you can’t, we’ll let you borrow our’s.