Our beloved baguette cat turns fifteen today. She is ill, she has lost weight; it feeds only on protein broths; dies. To take us further in the preparation of grief, Caterina and I have been cultivating cemetery fantasies for some time. Wrap it in a linen cloth. Put the body in a Moët Chandon box. Bury her at the foot of a box in her old country house. We thought we were exaggerating, we thought we were wrong. We have no children, we are thinking of couples, we would be responsible for the excessive care of pets and co-responsibility for human extinction.
But here it is: page one hundred and fifteen of True stories by Sophie Calle, True stories in the first edition 1994, with various enriched and modified reprints, until this Italian purchased by Contrasto for the meritorious “Lampi” series, 2022. The fiftieth anniversary of the sixty-three stories which makes up this brochure is dedicated to the cat Souris, inside his wooden coffin (“it served as a model for the representatives before the photography was used”). Other micro-stories are also dedicated to Souris, including Maternity: “When I stated that I did not want children, they pointed out that my behavior with Souris was that of a mother.”
Each book seeks its audience and each reader finds their own way of reading a book. This also applies to this book, which works in many ways. You can open it wherever you want, because the structure is the same. On the even side is a photo, almost always taken by her, it is assumed. They are mostly momentary, taken a bit like this, sometimes skewed and grammatical, sometimes recycling and sometimes recycling. They seem to have been made with the intention of agreeing with Joan Fontcuberta or Joachim Schmidt. On the odd side, there is instead a text that can extend from the epigraph to the caption up to the short story, preceded by a laconic titolino. Sometimes the text comments on the pictures, sometimes the photo illustrates the text, other times it goes its own way. But it remains a compact unit, it will never be a page break. Sometimes it is just the photo that takes the whole page and the text then flows underneath.
The stories are divided into sections, but defining them as “thematic” would be unforgivably bureaucratic. When you read them in succession, one by one, the little stories are composed a bit like those image projections from the past, commented with deictic emphasis on uncles or cousins, some festive evenings or at the end of boring lunches or dinners.
Only Sophie Calle talks here. One who at the age of twenty looked out every night from a booth in Pigalle to do striptease: “eighteen times a day, between four in the afternoon and one in the morning”, and we are free to believe it. And so she posed as a model, only to realize that a guy at the end of each session with a razor blade tore with a razor blade the drawings from the inspection of her body. One of these drawings, by sadistically disturbing academics, is on the page next to the story.
Sophie Calle who later discovers, or invents herself as an artist, what a difference it makes, and one day is hired by one of the Venetian hotels overlooking the Riva degli Schiavoni. For three weeks, we are in the winter of 1981, she sneaks into the rooms as a maid. He notes how he finds the sheets, the things that have been left on the bedside tables or on the sink, the clothes that hang in the closet. On these fragments of existences he develops fantasies and tries to imagine the life, the bodies, the actions behind these debris. Emptiness and absence that take on the thickness of possible presence. The hallucinatory proximity to everyday objects, shapeless, distracted, which signals nothing but an irrevocable distance. The hyperrealism of the visual trace and the objectivity of the protocol are just another form of opacity.
Travelers unaware of acting in front of one voyeur. “I observed, in detail, life that remained foreign to me”: what libro, ormai leggendario e costosissimo, s’intitola The HotelEditions de l’Etoile, 1984.
Those were the years when an aggressive figurative painting with a neo-expressionist system won along with an ultra-comprehensive revision, on the border and sometimes beyond the citationist kitsch and pastiche post Modern. Years when people still believed in the author’s bodily presence (and it could be the vitaminized Texan as Schnabel or the suburban addict as Basquiat) and the masterpiece’s commodity presence.
Calle worked in a completely different direction. He had introduced the cooler analytical and documentary character of conceptual and narrative art. And she had, after living it, understood the most important part of the performative practices and feminist actions of the seventies. But without whining and without floral skirts. And instead of spitting at Hegel, rejecting the family, founding a circle of self-awareness or a “self-produced” magazine in mimeographic style among her companions, she tried to linger with disarming sincerity and a certain courage in herself, which gave a very special twist to concepts such as “the private is political” or “I am mine”.
He thus agreed to transform the game with reminiscences and his own human comedy into an analytical transfer. But here, without ideologies, systems or big numbers; put aside the circus Theories of the dominance of the character and settle for the characters: those left at the bottom of the coffee in the cup, by a fluffy pillow, by the withered corpse of a dead cat (not Souris, but another: she says she has so far owned three pieces, all are now gone).
Or like when he found an address book in rue des Martyrs and before returning it to the owner, he wrote off and contacted all the people on the list and explained that he wanted to talk to them to try to find out who the owner was. . So, without wanting to meet him, simply trace his circle of friends and acquaintances (The address book, 1983, originally serialized on «Libération»). Things like this have led to it being written into that “relational aesthetic” – the well-known definition is by Nicholas Bourriaud – where art functions as a social space, removed from the laws of profit. A space that welcomes everyday experiences, gently invites us or forces us to accept various social functions.
The life that Sophie Calle tells in True stories it is the bed where he slept until he was seventeen; of the coveted wedding dress up to that time; of her breasts for a long time means in comparison with her prosperous mother and who in a fantastic way took shape “1992, in six months”. And it’s a life marked by old aunts embroidering sheets, by herself that can once again be seen in the somewhat astonishing photo of when she was a child, by the night she slept on the Eiffel Tower. And so by men who as the first wedding present release an erection, and who are asked to pee in a bucket in front of the camera before the divorce, because “that shot was used to put my hand on her sex one last time”. And then the unwanted children, and then again and again mothers and fathers who are the ones we always find ourselves. “I was thirty years old and my dad thought I had bad breath. Without consulting me, he arranged for me to see a general practitioner whom he met by chance. I went there. As soon as she arrived, by her way, it immediately became clear to me that she was a psychoanalyst ”.
Parents who then grow old and then die, just like Souris, but many years later (“He decided everything. Even his death: 96 years. Closed speech. Then he saw her reach 94. Two years stolen. This he did. To antagonize “).
IN True stories the adjective that makes up the title is perhaps the most enigmatic and disturbing. Less analytical and stable Unnamed movie stills by Cindy Sherman, less visceral and one-sided than that Ballad about sexual addiction by Nan Goldin, Sophie Calle’s work is at the crossroads between these authors and these works, challenging the very concept of documentary truth and autobiographical fiction, undermining the status of the photographic document as a self-narrative.
The fact that this Italian edition was proposed by Contrasto says a lot about how photography has changed, over the last forty years, thanks to the work of non-photographers. And it’s really hard to say what Sophie Calle really is: in the fusion of art and life, and without improbable aestheticism, she has from time to time been an actress, videographer, photographer, anthropologist, psychologist, notable and mystifier, and all. these things together.
Faced with Instagram’s narcissistic storytelling and selfishness, with its peculiar interference between text and image, Sophie Calle has created something that accommodates both the altar and the confessional, the mysterious and the prosaic, the family album and personal diaryabout the fiction of life and the truth of death.
And everything is clear in the book’s last photo, with the author’s figure reflecting on the shiny surface of a granite tombstone, longing for a cemetery assignment nine thousand kilometers from Montparnasse. His heart was bare, in the only possible way today. She makes us think we know everything about her, but we really know nothing about her.
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