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Sophie Calle - Talking To Strangers

There is no artist I admire as much as Sophie Calle. Maybe Miranda July, but only just.

I love how she created a practice based on story and experience that to me uses autobiography like no other. It is always beautifully composed both visually and narratively, and her approaches are gorgeous and bold. I have several of her books and books about her, but the work of hers that I have come back to over and over again in the ten years since I saw it is Take Care of Yourself.

It takes as its basis an email, and then uses it as stimulus to create an installation of visual and audio visual response and interpretation. The email is a breakup email from a lover. Sophie Calle received it as she was preparing to represent France in the Venice Biennale. The piece she then curated sends that email to women in every field and artform imaginable and asks them to translate/interpret/analyse and make something from it. The art is in the response. The art is in the collective representation. I remember feeling it as an onslaught of frustration and pain and process. I have never felt as strongly about any other exhibition. I saw it several times while it was at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. I bought the catalog and it has moved everywhere I have.

The thing that is so interesting about the email is what is not said, or what can be implied. This is a recurring theme in my work. I am interested in the unsaid, the space between words, the space you infer from and imagine into. I am sure the email was carefully constructed.

 

 

When my father had an accident that we knew was probably terminal, just under three months ago, there were two things I immediately wanted to find. The first was an interview I filmed of him for Show Me The Money (I wanted his perspective as an economist) The second was the email you sent to me when I came out to him at age 26. My father was always traveling during his working life. He was quite stereotypically british, and a man of his generation. Discussing emotion or anything too personal was not something we did. But at age 26 my girlfriend and I were moving in together, and I needed to tell him she wasn’t just my friend. I came out in the most cowardly way possible, in a rambling email while he was on the other side of the world, in Kenya.

The email he sent to me was accepting, aware and kind. Perfect in tone, and it means so much to me, because what it expressed is that he loved me for exactly who I was.

 

 

On the day of the accident, after I found the interview with him, and just as I was looking at this email again, my boyfriend read it over my shoulder. Right as he finished he said “You should frame that”.

And right then all I could see was this piece, the email, formatted square, framed as an art piece. I knew I wanted to sell it, but I also knew that was more about creating a sense of it as an art object. I knew I wanted it to be affordable because my father would like that. I then also knew I wanted all the profits to go to charity. I couldn't decide on the frame at first, I knew the framing was important, but I liked the idea of matte black, but all of my father’s furniture was walnut. I then decided to make both options and make that part of the work.

When I released it a few weeks ago, I had no idea who it was for and even whether there was an audience. It felt more vulnerable than anything I had ever released but I just knew I had to release it. Very quickly it found its audience. I had the most beautiful messages from people saying that for them it represented the email they wish they could have from their own fathers. I take so much pride in this. The last image is the walnut version of the work in the Ashdown Forest in east sussex, where my parents house is. If I ever release it as an unframed print, it would be this image of it.