In December 2009 my daughter introduced me to the work of French artist Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Sophie’s art examines human vulnerability and intimacy, using an almost detective like approach, with real life subjects. There were a number of her installations in the gallery but the one I loved the most was “Take Care of Yourself”.
When Sophie was visiting Berlin she received an email from her boyfriend dumping her electronically, saying it was hurting him more than her, and signed with the parting words “take care of yourself…”. Sophie was heartbroken and shared the email with a friend who told her what she thought of it. It gave her an idea to treat this emotional experience as potential art. So – she distributed her email to over 100 women and invited them to read it and analyse it according to their profession. My favourites include the mediation session between Sophie and the letter, a storybook of the email created by 2 children’s authors and the analysis of the key statements in the email and where they appear in literature. There is also a female parrot who gives her opinion!
It is an amazing collection and an intense expression of the female species. I think about my own breakups or my friends and daughter’s and how we reach out to other women to help us make sense of something painful. Sophie herself states that this process was like therapy at first before it became art. Some may find her work confronting or difficult to interpret but I love her way of taking something from real life and looking at it from different angles…
“Love, life and death – all of that is the most mundane material for artists. It amuses me because people often say, doesn’t it bother you to show your private life? I say, well if you ruled out private life, you would have to eliminate all poetry… What I’m putting on show is a dumping. All dumping letters are the same, they’re unpleasant. This one is neither better or worse than all the rest. It’s an aid to a break-up. I don’t talk about the man, and all the better. The subject is the letter, the text … It was the words ‘take care of yourself’. Those words made me click. He said ‘take care of yourself’, he knows how I take care of myself, he knows what my method is.” Sophie Calle in The Guardian