My Sophie Calle obsession continues as I followed the breadcrumbs from Paul Auster’s Leviathan to her response here in this volume. For backstory, Auster based one of the characters in Leviathan (Maria) on Sophie, using examples of her real work but also making up a few projects which she hadn’t done. In response, she does the projects that he made up, and also invites him to create another project for her that she’d focus on for up to a year. Auster pens four pages of a Gotham Handbook, with instructions for Sophie—smile at people and count how many you give/receive, talk to strangers, hand out sandwiches and cigarettes to the needy, and cultivate a spot somewhere.
She dutifully takes on all of these, and commandeers a phone booth at Greenwich and Harrison in Tribeca by painting the floor, installing flowers, kleenex, snacks, orange juice, ashtray/cigarettes, comment card, magazines, folding chairs. Every day she swings by for an hour and tapes the phone conversations, tidies up and re-installs things that go missing.
Paul’s directive about talking to stranger has some lyrical passages about the importance of talking about the weather, “the great equalizer…. To discuss the weather with a stranger is to shake hands and put aside your weapons. It is a sign of good will, an acknowledgement of your common humanity with the person you are talking to.”
The rest of the book is filled with images and text explaining the other projects that Auster had referenced, some new details overlain on things I already had seen. Most blown out was The Hotel, with pictures and descriptions of every hotel room she cleaned during her 3 weeks in Venice.
A gorgeous art book collecting dozens of Calle’s works, interspersed with interviews, photographs, yellow pages with three hole punches, details on her performance art pieces, close-ups of her showings in galleries. The book is edged with a metal plate on three sides of the cover (both front & back). The design of everything is overall stunning, a pleasure to read and provides the right atmosphere for absorbing Calle and her work over many decades. Not much was new to me, except the piece where she took her mother’s jewels to the North Pole and buried them there, a tribute to her dead mother who always had wanted to go.
Seattle’s Bay Press issued this 1988 translation of Sophie Calle’s 1983 photo essay documenting the spur-of-the-moment trip to Venice she took to follow someone she just met; she had followed and photographed him before meeting him at a party later, then learned he was traveling. In Venice she calls all the local hotels trying to figure out where he’s staying, then sets up a lookout wearing her blonde wig. Yes, it’s creepy to track someone like this, but the resulting document wasn’t interesting.
Another interesting dip into Sophie Calle’s work, this one part of the Hasselblad Award from 2010. She layers her photos with text, or vice versa. I find the words more interesting than the photos, but as she says, everything originated with photos; she was living in a photographer’s house in Northern California and decided to take up photography, returned to Paris to take a class, showed up once and then never to another class after the teacher took them up to the Eiffel Tower to shoot, Calle realizing she didn’t need this type of teaching.
The autobiography she wrote for Victor Hasselblad is just a few sentences but she conveys the complexity of being single and without children, the freedom and absolute delight in not having them. “I sigh, ‘Poor things…’ ” as a couple with child walk by. This is fitting because Victor was able to fund the award she got since he had no heirs.