This work by Sophie Calle is technically not a pink work in itself, as it is a stamped pink metallic front cover of Calle's book that followed her exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale titled, Take Care Of Yourself. I have chosen this book cover after showing my work last week, which combines video and performance and following my post on Tracey Emins text works the previous week.
The image above is of Calle herself, her identity removed by the cropping of the photo at the base of her nose suggesting a universal image of a women. Her bosom peeking through the top of her dress creates a strong image of femininity, sexuality and sensuality, whilst the focus of the image is on the position of the heart, our emotional center. The words projected onto her face, neck and chest are the words of a breakup e-mail she received from her lover the day he ended their affair, in particular, the words he used to end the email 'perenes soin de vous' meaning 'take care of yourself'.
Not only are the words 'perenes soin de vous' projected onto Calle's chest but they are also pressed onto her skin. Similar to the process of livestock branding, which is used for marking livestock so as to identify the owner, it seems Calle is branded with these words, suggesting her ownership by her now ex-lover. In ancient Roman times, the technique of branding was used with particular symbols as part of a magic spell ceremony to protect the animal from harm. Is Calle giving us this image to suggest that she is protecting herself from the inevitable harm a relationship breakup leaves behind or is the image suggesting that an ex lover will always 'own' us in one way or another?
Delving into what lies behind this book cover one would assume we will find the answer, but instead Take Care Of Yourself gives no real answer as to how Calle herself, overcomes these cutting words. She says "What can I do to suffer less?...once I got the idea, it took over, and I didn’t care about the therapeutic aspect anymore." Calle gives us an investigation of love and loss through a process of asking over 100 women to interpret the break up letter she had received. The women were asked to interpret the letter through their professional position, to analyze it through it's words, and to not include sentiment within their responses. "For example, I wanted the grammarian to speak about grammar—I wanted to play with the dryness of professional vocabulary. I didn’t want the women expressing sentiment for me. " says Sophie Calle. This work could have been seen as a knee jerk reaction to being dumped by email but Calle states the "...work was not about revenge."
Even though there is a removal of Calle's personal response within the resulting video installation work which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the book's cover is more revealing as a personal response by the artist to the letter itself. Presented in the colour pink, and created on pressed metal, it suggests some kind of strong determination to the resolution of a painful and vulnerable experience, probably more akin to the ancient Romans use of branding, so we hope.
Calle's work is an investigation into human vulnerability, and examines identity and intimacy through interactions with strangers and estranged lovers, including one work she created recording her mothers dying moments. Calle's use of image and text provokes an intense emotional response from the viewer and we feel the emotional exposure and the vulnerable position that exists within the roles as 'Calle the artist' and as 'Calle's subjects'.
Jessica Lott, winner of the Frieze Writer's Prize for her review of the piece, wrote: "Calle took the e-mail, and the paralyzing confusion that accompanies the mind’s failure to comprehend heartbreak, and distributed it to 107 women of various professions, skills and talents to help her understand it – to interpret, analyze, examine and perform it. The result of this seemingly obsessive, schoolyard exercise is paradoxically one of the most expansive and telling pieces of art on women and contemporary feminism to pass through (the major art centres) in recent years". You can read the full essay here.