Sophie Calle, True Stories | double zero

Today our beloved cat Baguette turns fifteen. She is sick, she has lost weight; eats only protein broths; dies. To move forward in the development of mourning, Katerina and I cultivated graveyard fantasies for some time. Wrap it in linen. Place the body in the Moët Chandon box. Bury her at the foot of the chest in her old country house. We thought we were exaggerating, we thought we were wrong. We don’t have children, we date couples, we will be responsible for the over-care of pets, and we will be responsible for the extinction of mankind.

But here it is: page one hundred and fifteen of True Stories Sophie Calle, True Stories in the first edition in 1994, with various enriched and modified reprints, up to this Italian edition acquired by Contrasto for the commendable Lampi series, 2022. 50th anniversary of the sixty-three stories of which this booklet consists, is dedicated to the cat Suris in his wooden coffin (“he served as a model for representatives before the use of photography”). Other micronarratives are dedicated to Suris, including Motherhood: “When I stated that I did not want children, they pointed out that my behavior with Souris was the behavior of a mother.”

Each book is looking for its audience, and each reader finds his own way of reading the book. This also applies to this book, which works in many ways. You can open it anywhere since the structure is the same. There is a photo on the even page, almost always taken by her, as supposed. They are mostly instant, filmed a little like this, sometimes crookedly and illiterately, sometimes restoration and sometimes processing. They seem to have been made on purpose to go along with Joan Fontkuberta or Joachim Schmidt. The odd page contains text instead, which can range from an epigraph and caption to a story prefaced by a concise titolino. Sometimes the text comments on the photos, sometimes the photo illustrates the text, sometimes everything goes on as usual. But it remains a compact block, there is never a page break. Sometimes only the photo takes up the whole page, and the text then flows underneath.

The stories are divided into sections, but defining them as “thematic” would be inexcusably bureaucratic. When read sequentially, one after the other, the little stories add up to a kind of slide projection of the past, commented in a deictic accent by uncles or cousins ​​on certain festive evenings or at the end of dull lunches or dinners.

Only Sophie Calle speaks here. Someone who, at the age of twenty, looked out of the stall at Pigalle every evening to perform a striptease: “eighteen times a day, between four in the afternoon and one in the morning,” and we can believe it. And then she pretended to be a model, only to realize that the guy at the end of each session rips out the drawings taken when examining her body with a razor blade. One of these drawings of sadistic, anxious academicism is on the page next to the story.

Sophie Calle, who later discovers or reinvents herself as an artist, what difference does it make, and one day she is hired by one of those Venetian hotels that overlook Riva degli Schiavoni. For three weeks, in the winter of 1981, she sneaks into the maid’s quarters. He notes how he finds sheets, things left on the bedside tables or on the sink, clothes hanging in the closet. On these fragments of existence, he develops fantasies, trying to imagine the lives, bodies, actions behind these fragments. Emptiness and absence, acquiring the thickness of possible presences. The hallucinatory closeness of everyday objects, formless, scattered, which signals nothing but an irreparable distance. The hyperrealism of the visual trace and the objectivity of the protocol are just another form of opacity.

Travelers unaware of actions in front of one voyeur. “I observed in detail the life that remained alien to me”: what libro, ormai leggendario e costosissimo, s’intitola L’HotelEditions de l’Etoile, 1984.

These were the years when aggressive figurative painting with a neo-expressionist system triumphed, along with an ultra-complex revision, at the limit, and sometimes beyond, quotationist kitsch and imitation postmodern. Years when people still believed in the bodily presence of the Author (and it could be a fortified Texan like Schnabel, or a suburban junkie like Basquiat) and the commodity presence of the Masterpiece.

Calle worked in a completely different direction. He introjected the colder analytical and documentary nature of conceptual and narrative art. And she understood, having lived it, the most important part of the performative practices and feminist actions of the seventies. But no whining and no flowered skirts. And instead of spitting on Hegel, renouncing the family, founding a self-awareness circle or a “self-made” journal in mimeographic style among her comrades, she tried with disarming sincerity and some courage to linger on herself, giving a very special twist to such concepts as “private political” or “I am mine”.

So he agreed to turn the play of memories and his own human comedy into an analytic transference. But here without ideologies, systems and loud speeches; putting aside the circus Theories about the dominance of the Sign and content with the signs: the bottom of the coffee left in the cup, the fluffed-up pillow, the desiccated corpse of a dead cat (not Suris, but another: she says she’s had three so far, now they’re all gone).

Or like the time he found the address book on Martyr Street and, before returning it to its owner, copied and contacted all the people on the list, explaining that he wanted to talk to them to try to find out who the owner was. . So, not wanting to meet him, just tracing the circle of his friends and acquaintances (The address book, 1983, originally based on the TV series “Liberation”. Things like this led to him being inscribed in that “relational aesthetic” – Nicolas Bourriaud’s well-known definition – in which art acts as a social void, detached from the laws of profit. A space that welcomes everyday experience, gently inviting us or forcing us into various social functions.

The life that Sophie Calle tells in True Stories it is the bed in which he slept until he was seventeen; a wedding dress coveted at that time; her breasts have long been significant compared to her prosperous mother and miraculously took shape “in 1992, in six months.” And this is a life marked by old aunts embroidering sheets, herself, who can be seen again in a slightly surprised photograph when she was a child, in a photograph of a night spent sleeping on the Eiffel Tower. And then the husbands who get their erections as their first wedding gift and are asked to piss in a bucket on camera before the divorce because “this shot was used to put my hand on her floor for the last time.” And then unwanted children, and then again and again mothers and fathers, whom we always find ourselves. “I was thirty years old and my father thought I had bad breath. Without consulting me, he arranged for me to visit a general practitioner whom he met by chance. I went there. As soon as she arrived, it was immediately clear to me from her manner that she was a psychoanalyst.”

Parents who will then grow old and then die, like Suris, but many years later (“He decided everything. Even his death: 96 years old. Closed speech. Then he saw how she reached 94. They stole two years. He did this . To piss off “).

AT True Stories the adjective that makes up the name is perhaps the most mysterious and disturbing thing. Less analytical and level-headed Stills from the untitled film Cindy Sherman, less intuitive and one-sided than Ballad of sex addiction Nan Goldin, Sophie Calle’s work is at the intersection of 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-story.

That this Italian edition is offered by Contrasto says a lot about how photography has changed in the last forty years thanks to the work of those who are not photographers. And it’s really hard to say what Sophie Calle really is: in the fusion of art and life, and without an incredible aestheticism, she has been an occasional actress, video maker, photographer, anthropologist, psychologist, notist and hoaxer, and all that. these things together.

In anticipation of the narcissistic storytelling and selfishness of Instagram, with its idiosyncratic interference between text and image, Sophie Calle has created something that combines altar and confession, mystical and prosaic, family album and family album. The Diaryabout the fiction of life and the truth about death.

And all this can be seen in the last photograph of the book, where the figure of the author is reflected on the shiny surface of a granite tombstone, coveted for a cemetery purpose, nine thousand kilometers from Montparnasse. His heart is exposed, the only possible way today. She makes us think that we know everything about her, but in fact we do not know anything about her.

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