I’ve just come back from my first run in SUCH a long time. I ran. And I could. Walking stick to running in 3 months. Most pleasing!
I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about our perception of others lives in contrast to how one sees one’s own life.
It’s easy to see how people watching our lives in the past year would be thinking we’ve had a hard time, but when you’re in it, you just get on with it, right? It wasn’t easy, but we were warm and dry and we had family and so many amazing friends.
I know that sounds like a warm fuzzy cliche, but it’s simply true – so very much to be grateful for.
But none of that was what I thought I’d write about in this blog.
Instead of updating my social media with photos from my past year/decade – really, no one needs to see how much I’ve aged – I thought I’d write about some of the more interesting things I’ve done this year, life has not all been bleak thankfully.
As you will see if you keep reading, I got sidetracked and tell you very little about my year.
Where shall I start?
I’ve already told you about my trip to Miami and Cartagena in Pink Fur and Vulvas, so I guess chronological makes sense, even if it does remind me that I’m 10 months behind in posting my artistic escapades – fortunately, I did write as I went, so I guess, here’s some I wrote earlier…
February 2019 and I’m in Heathrow Terminal 3. Full of sausage, black pudding and beans (my husband thinks baked beans are an abomination on a cooked breakfast, I couldn’t disagree more, but maybe now is not the time to discuss this highly contentious issue).
My relatively late adoption of Instagram has turned out to be a really useful tool over the months.
Following #louisebourgeois brings up photos people have taken of her work all over the world.
I haven’t, yet, found a really good way of locating/knowing which of her works are being exhibited when, but this is a good start.
Chateau La Coste. One such place.
Owned by an extremely successful businessman (that is to say, billionaire) Paddy McKillen, this Chateau, about 20 minutes outside Aix En Provence was not to be missed.
And since we were arriving on the TGV after a gig in Paris, with 24 hours to spare before working next, it would have been rude not to.
Sunshine. A car full of very lovely people. Windows down. Really good music blaring. Perfection.
It was this picture that kept coming up in my feed that had, for obvious reasons, caught my attention – let’s face it who wouldn’t want to go there? Just the quantity of blue sky is pull enough, never mind the beautiful arachnid!
We started off in the Tadao Ando Restaurant, unfortunately the kitchen was already closed, but we managed some plates of cheese, desserts and a bottle of their wine. That would suffice!
The sun was beginning to set as we walked around the vineyard. It is scattered with sculptures, to look at, to walk in and around, to move and play with. All beautifully moulded into the landscape.
I think the one that elicited most reaction from us (though it’s a close call, to be honest) was probably Sophie Calle’s Dead End.
At the end of a long path lies a grave.
It is inscribed ‘ICI REPOSENT LES SECRETS DES PROMENEURS’.
It has a small letterbox style slot in it.
We were perplexed but drawn to it.
We took photos of ourselves weeping at the graveside.
It wasn’t until we had exhausted all possibilities of interpreting the piece, that we walked away and consequently found the box of paper and writing implements that allowed us to write our secrets and place them in the grave.
It was a really interesting change of mood as we all sought rocks to sit on, quietly preparing to literally bury our deepest darkest secrets.
The grave was installed at Chateau La Coste in the summer of 2018.
When the grave is full it will be opened and the secrets contained in it will be burned.
You know that scenario where you actually know someone who is ‘famous’ and instead of putting them in the ‘famous person’ draw in your head, far from disrespecting their talent (of course assuming they have some, not a foregone conclusion nowadays), you just have them down as a ‘normal’ person the same as every other ‘normal’ person you know?
I found Sophie Calle in that box in my head.
Sophie Calle. Exquisite Pain.
Forced Entertainment 2005. The year George was born in Sheffield, and Matt was the General Manager of Forced Entertainment – a theatre company described by a national paper as ‘Confounding conventions and exploding audience expectations’.
Exquisite Pain was the first time they had made a show using someone else’s (Sophie’s) text.
Matt met Sophie Calle, she was there working with all the people I knew.
Maybe I met her?
The more I study her life and work now, the more I have had to move her from the ‘ordinary people’ box and put her into the ‘extraordinary’ box.
In 1984 Sophie Calle took a three month trip to Japan (after winning a young person’s travel grant), she was to meet her partner in New Dehli at the end of the three months, but he called her when she got there and ended the relationship.
To deal with the devastation she came home and told 99 people about her heartbreaking experience. She recorded them (in various mediums) telling her about their own most devastating moments – the woman who is told she will give birth to a stillborn child, the boy who hears his father has died. And “I decided to continue… until I had got over my pain by comparing it with other people’s, or had worn out my own story through sheer repetition”
Exquisite Pain is a series of photos and prose.
A 92-day countdown to ‘unhappiness’ and then the grieving process afterwards.
It is a beautiful book, an exhibition, and also a show – made by Forced Entertainment. If you ever get a chance to check out any of these forms of this beautiful piece of art, I highly recommend.
Sophie Calle also wrote a book with Paul Auster called Double Game.
I am yet to get my hands on a copy as it’s out of print.
I would dearly love to.
Paul Auster is most definitely one of my favourite authors (alongside Raymond Carver who, incidentally, collaborated on a book with Louise Bourgeois – I do own this one!).
Paul Auster wrote Leviathan about Sophie Calle. She appears, thinly veiled as a character named Maria.
Auster first became aware of Sophie Calle after she found a lost address book.
She sent it back to the owner, but not before copying all the pages.
Consequently, she phoned everybody in the book and asked them about the owner.
She built a picture and stories around the owner and wrote them as a column in a newspaper.
When the owner of the address book found out, he was less than happy and eventually got hold of a naked photo of her and posted it in the paper. This didn’t bother Sophie (she’d spent a stint as a stripper in Paris), it added validity to the project, proving to the sceptics she wasn’t making it all up.
Though how much is fact and how much fiction? We’ll never know.
After Calle read Auster’s manuscript she asked in return that Auster write another novel, inventing a character which she would attempt to resemble.
She would give up to a year of her life, and would follow his story to the letter.
It took 3 years for him to agree.
In those three years, Calle chose to live out the bits of Auster’s character that weren’t her. Eating a monochrome diet, spending whole days under the spell of single letters of the alphabet. All beautifully captured in photos as well as words.
Knowing her propensity for danger Auster was very reluctant to fulfil Sophie’s request, but eventually, out of desperation, he wrote what he thought would be the most harmless, simple project possible for her.
“Gotham Handbook”, not a novel, but a set of “Personal Instructions for Sophie Calle on How To Improve Life in New York”
These included smiling at strangers, distributing sandwiches and cigarettes, talking about the weather, and finding ‘a spot in NY and think of it as your own. Beautify it, take care of it, see what happens to the spot when people go by’.
Calle chose a phone booth. She decorated it, put flowers in it, notebooks, pencils, chains and padlocks, mirrors and an ashtray. She included the latest issue of the Glamour magazine and she sat two folding chairs by it.
She also added a tape recorder that recorded the calls people made.
Just as the project was coming to a natural end the police/FBI got wind of it – it’s against the law to tamper with a phone – the phone company dismantled Sophie’s ‘spot’ and threw it all in a skip.
She, again, avoided any trouble.
So, as you see, I didn’t get very far with telling you about my year!
It was hard enough knowing where to stop telling you about Sophie Calle’s work, there is so much more I’d love to share, and it’s moving, beautiful, fun and dangerous.
I can always come back to tell you more about my adventures (or hers) though, so in the meantime, Happy New Year!
Featured image : Sophie Calle – Double Game, Gotham Handbook 1994-2000