Today I went to see an exhibition Take care of yourself by a photography artist, Sophie Calle. She's a French photographer who's ex-boyfriend ended their relationship in an email the last words of which being "Prenez soin de vous", "Take care of yourself." And so she did. Sophie showed the letter to 107 women from different occupations and situations - from a school girl to a lawyer - and asked them to treat it in a way their profession would demand. The result is a massive collection of unique, unexpected and diverse responses and interpretations to the text consisting of photographs, videos and writings. To go through the exhibition was absolutely exhausting as I really read all of the literary responses of which there was a lot. I didn't watch all of the videos because that would probably have taken several hours, and I was already quite overwhelmed by the amount of material in that show.
To unpick this body of work is quite a challenge. There are so many burning questions and emotionally engaging details and just everything that it feels really hard to attempt to wholly grasp the meaning of it all. Professionally I find combining varying techniques inspiring, and especially in this kind of semi-documentary collaborative project it adds more depth to the whole. Also, I'm a person who likes stuff and connections between things; and Take care of yourself is exactly like a mind map built around this one unfortunate love - or farewell - letter.
Personally I feel even attached to this body of work for a couple of reasons. My way of trying to deal with things - and take care of myself - is discussing them with several different people. If I have an actual problem, something tricky that I need to solve, I like to hear a few opinions from other people to get more perspective. I'm also very analytic and thoughtful about frankly everything in my life: in my brain, there is constantly going on an in-depth analysis about things people say and do, their gestures and expressions and what they might mean by doing this or that. Well, not all the people for that would be impossible unless you were a computer or something - just the significant ones.
I really find this project interesting, and were the exhibition tickets so damn expensive, I'd definitely go see it again. Probably the first thing about Take care of yourself that struck me was the impossible thought of someone being such a coward as to leave their significant other with a letter. In general I think writing about things is as good a way of discussing as any if it comes naturally for both sides. I, for example, am extremely incoherent when speaking about my feelings and such, so sometimes I have come to a conclusion that it is beneficial for everyone if I write instead of talking. That way I have time to stop and think what exactly I want to say and how, and then I can avoid blurting out things I don't want to bring up just then as well. I know that for many people it's the exact opposite: if they try to tell about their feelings hardly anything comes out.
So yeah. Writing is good.
You do not dump your partner in a text/ in an email/ in a handwritten letter/ through phone/ through another person. No. You do it yourself, in person because that's what a decent human being does.
Now, there are some exceptions to the rule like there always are but generally speaking, you need to have the guts to end your relationship face to face. It's not nice, obviously. Or if it is then there's some serious shit wrong either with you or the relationship.
But that's enough with today's moral lecture.
Another thing, after getting over the hatred towards the dickhead who wrote that letter, that comes to mind is the line between private and public. Sometimes it is a fine line and hard to determine, but in the case of letters I'd say we're clearly in the private section. Having a 'love letter' distributed and analysed into pieces, and presented publicly seems the worst kind of violation of privacy that one can commit. Imagine someone uploading a confidential message from you to the Internet. Imagine all the people, random strangers being able to read it and comment on in. A nightmare.
So how can Sophie Calle's work be justified in this light?
I don't know.
But in the name of art you are and have always been able to stretch the rules. It's everybody's own choice whether or not making this work is okay.
I must say that for me the letter in question felt oddly impersonal and vague for a letter of this kind of purpose. It could have been written by anyone to anyone - and it wasn't even very well written. Going through most profound and unforgiving examination and evaluation, being twitched and turned and taken apart by dancers, writers, a fortune teller, a judge and a parrot (yes, a parrot) there is left even less of personality and belonging to the letter. At least I, when studying the material provided by the 107 women, forgot or stopped thinking about the fact that these words that are being interpreted over and over again were the words that informed the artist Calle that her relationship was over.
I don't yet know what I am ready to do in terms of my art - how deep in myself I want to go with it, and how much of my life I want to share. I would never publish something that personal, though. I could deal with personal things but more subtly.
And next I should write a clever overview of this exhibition for my uni course.
I don't even know if I feel too closely related -- well not related really, but somehow sympathetic towards the subject. hmm