Sophie Calle

It is appropriate to assert that the subject of the cycle, The Graves, is not death, but rather the reflection on the representation of death. Sophie Calle represents the impossibility to represent death by creating an artwork based on spectres and absences.

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Les Tombes / The Graves (detail), 1990
Gelatin silver print on aluminum
180 x 100 cm each
museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien

The triptych Les Tombes displays images of marble graves without any reference to dates, places or names. The only inscriptions are words that describe family connections: “mother,” “father,” “son”. As in other artworks by the artist, photography serves first of all as documentation of an encounter or an action. In this case, it is the discovery of the cemetery in Bolinas, a small town a few kilometres from San Francisco, California. The encounter with this site is transformed into a conceptual reflection on themes such as death, mourning, and family relationships.

Part of a large cycle comprised of different series of polyptychs with a similar subject matter, these three images, one adjacent to another, lead the viewer to interpret them as an abstract family portrait, mournful and poetic at the same time. Sophie Calle encourages a reflection on those relationships that, in their presence or absence, define each person’s identity. Even though anonymous, each tomb in the triptych contains a real body that was once a person and remains alive as a memory and as a site allowing the opportunity to worship that memory by the survivors. Therefore, the cemetery becomes a place for and of the family, a place where to preserve, remember and, paradoxically, live out those relationships that define the identity of each person: to be father of, mother of, child of.

The textual narrative seems to disappear and the value of her artwork shifts to the strong contrast between a single word and an image, an image that is almost eviscerated of its essence. The 1:1 scale, the focus, the use of black and white, and the photographic cut that denies the vision of any other element beyond the tombs, all amplify the abstract effect and lead the viewer towards a conceptual meditation on the concept of mourning. The subject of the cycle is not death, but rather the reflection on the representation of death. Calle works with spectres and absences: the spectres of the interred and the absence of their individuality, but also the presence-absence of the viewer in front of the work. Such spectres relate to the dichotomy between life and death and to the concept of hallucination as the basis for the photographic medium itself, which shows a thing in absence of the thing itself, that which existed but is no longer.

Sophie Calle (born 1953, France; lives and works in Malakoff) began work as an artist in the 1970s and from that time on she has concentrated on different art mediums, including photography, films, videos, installations, and performances. She focuses on the meeting point, sometimes a point of correspondence, between art and her personal life. The beginning of her career saw the creation of The Sleeper (1979), which combines images and text. In Italy, Calle had a solo exhibition in 1992 at the Centre Culturel Français in Palermo. She garnered international fame by exhibiting for over thirty years throughout the world in solo and joint exhibitions. Among her most recent solo exhibitions are: in 2001, Sophie Calle, Public Places – Private Spaces, The Jewish Museum, San Francisco; in 2003, M’as-tu vue, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and later in 2004, at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, and at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; in 2005, Exquisite Pain, at the Portland Art Museum, Portland, and subsequently at the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; in 2008, Où et Quand? Berck/Lourdes, at the Arndt and Partner, Berlin, and at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris; in 2009, No sex last night, Centro Cultural Oi Futuro, Rio de Janeiro – Earth: art of changing world, Royal Academy of Arts, London; in 2010, Sophie Calle: Talking to Strangers, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg – Louisiana Contemporary: Sophie Calle, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; in 2011, Room in Crossing the Line (site-specifi c installation), Lowell Hotel, New York; in 2012, Historias de pared, Banco de Republica, Bogotá – Moi aussi, Musée du Septennat, Chateau-Chinon – Pour la dernière et pour la première fois, Chapelle Saint-Martin du Méjan, Rencontres Internationales de la photographies, Arles; in 2013, For the Last and First Time, Hara Museum, Tokyo – Chambre 20, Festival d’Avignon, Hôtel La Mirande, Avignon – Sophie Calle: Last Seen, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston – Sophie Calle, Absence, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Among her most recent joint exhibitions are: in 2008, The New Normal, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Huarte; in 2010, Che Fare? Arte Povera, the Historic Years, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz – In Full Bloom, Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan – Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera, Tate Modern, London; in 2011, Body Gesture, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland – Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Zach Feuer Gallery, New York – The Rest, Pepe Cobo y cía, Madrid; in 2012, Les Feux de l’amour, FRAC Aquitaine, Bordeaux – La plasticité du langage, Fondation Hippocrène, Paris – Privacy, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; in 2013, 2Q13, Women Artists, Women Collectors, Marcelle Joseph Projects, Lloyds Club, London – The Progress of Love, Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St Louis. In 2007, Calle was invited to represent France in the 52nd Venice Biennale with her project, Prenez soin de vous; in 2010, she won the Hasselblad Award; in 2012, she participated in the Shanghai Biennale. Sophie Calle’s works are part of numerous collections in internationally renowned museums, including: the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Information: +39 26 45 155
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