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Opening 28 September, 5pm — Plan your visit

The first major exhibition in the U.K. of the international artist, Sophie Calle. The exhibition combined a major retrospective with new work.

In all her works, Calle’s own presence in the leading role is conspicuous; examining the sleeping habits of strangers whom she invited to sleep in her bed; following the paths of people she met randomly; building up, layer by layer, the identity of a man who lost his address book, by interrogating his acquaintances whose names appear in it; questioning people who were born blind on their ideal of visual beauty. Using various ruses Calle penetrates her subject’s privacy to develop suspense stories of sorts, which often assume the characteristics of a ‘photo-romance’. In carrying out her assignments she combines techniques of voyeurism, journalism, detective work, and behavioural science. These produce a simulation of the strange and disturbing spanning between an obsessed passionate involvement as the ‘leading role’ in her assignments and stories, and the attributes of cool distance and rationalisation.

The exhibition was a major retrospective of Sophie Calle’s work and also developed a new series of works from her collaboration with New York author, Paul Auster, whose book, Leviathan included a fictional character based on Sophie Calle. The book mixes fact with fiction, creating a mythical character Maria who in part enacts some of Sophie Calle’s earlier projects, and part develops her own character through a series of daily rituals which are equally bizarre but totally fictional. From the original book, Calle imitated certain elements of the fictional work of Maria which are shown in the exhibition. The other part of the new work is a reversal of the process. Since in Leviathan Maria borrows events from Calle’s life, she proposed to Auster that he write a story about a fictitious character named Sophie. Calle borrowed events from the life of this character, and offered herself for one year to fulfil the obligation. Auster chose to send Calle on what he described as a ‘Personal instruction for Sophie Calle on how to improve life in New York city (Because she asked …). It was, he said open enough for her to find her own way through the ideas. This project is titled ‘The Gotham Handbook’.

The new work created for this exhibition was supported by some of the original projects which are included in Leviathan; Suite Venitienne; L’Hotel; Le Detective; Le Carnet d’Adresses; 3 Autobiographies and Les Cadeaux d’Anniversaire. The works were split between the Site Gallery and The Graves Art Gallery. The exhibition toured to Camden Arts Centre, London The exhibition was accompanied by a talk by the artist and a one day conference exploring her work and preoccupations in a critical context: ‘Playing Detective: Fact, Fiction and the work of Sophie Calle’.

Listen to archive audio from 1998 of a talk given by artist Sophie Calle on Site Gallery’s Youtube page

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