With Sophie Calle, art and life, her truths, are always woven tightly together, never presented separately. If the form of her works varies – texts, photos, films, installations – the material remains the same: intimacy, hers or others’, is what binds her creations together. She’s already exhibited photos of her ‘fake marriage’ to her real-life partner, had about a hundred female singers, shrinks and criminologists analyse the letter she sent to dump an ex, and created a scathing installation on the death of her mother (shown at the Rencontres d’Arles last summer) – this time, she opens up the lives of others, with a new exhibition at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin.
Called ‘Pour la dernière et pour la première fois' (‘For the last and for the first time’), the exhibition pulls together extracts from two of the artist’s former series: one, filmed on the Turkish coast in 2011, groups together video portraits of her subjects looking at the sea ‘for the first time’. The other, which dates from 2010, is made up of portraits of blind people (also Turkish), accompanied by their handwritten accounts of their last visual memory (i.e. ‘for the last time’). All these lives are captured by with the sensibility for which Sophie Calle is famous – sober, powerful, oblique and magnified by repetition – all together forming a mosaic infused with feeling. Too much feeling, perhaps?
Because there’s a big difference between the Sophie Calle who reveals her innermost secrets, and the Sophie Calle who reveals those of other lives. Paradoxically, she is rather more discreet, and much more subtle, when she flaunts and dissects her own sexuality and sorrows than when she probes those of her models. At her finest, she masters the art of self-analysis and exhibitionism, juggling reality and artifice to the point of becoming her art. In ‘Pour la dernière et pour la première fois', however, her perspective is narrow to the point of obtuseness. The collection is touching but simplistic, detailed but lacking finesse, and lacks the layers of meaning which normally give her expression its richness. In other words, we prefer the Sophie Calle who gives to the Sophie Calle who receives.