Sophie Calle: Modus Vivendi

Modus Vivendi, at La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, is an extensive retrospective of the French artist Sophie Calle which includes works from 1986 to the present. Sophie Calle is, technically speaking, a photographer, an installation artist, and a conceptual artist, but she is above all a raconteur who uses art as a vehicle to tell stories, both about herself and about others. In fact her work can be divided into those two main categories, though sometimes the two meet in situations that involve her and the people she carefully selects. Her eloquent stories have the capacity to inspire sympathy, laughter, optimism, joy, and melancholy, depending on your point of view and disposition.

In the beautiful welcoming piece, The Blind (1986), Sophie asked people who were born blind, who had never seen, what their image of beauty was. Answers included the sea, the colour green, his son as seen in a dream, a room as described in a book, and fish amongst others. The result is displayed in a set of frames, one with a portrait of the blind person, one with the written text of their answer, and another with an image of what they described. In another piece, Voir la Mer (2011), Sophie went to Istanbul, a city surrounded by water, met people who had never seen the sea and filmed their first time seeing it. These pieces are moving, beautiful, and tragic. They are portraits of human vulnerability which express an admirable capacity for optimism and appreciation of beauty.

The latter part of the exhibition focuses on Sophie Calle’s personal stories, presenting works which draw from her own experiences and blur the line between herself and her art. In these pieces we, the viewers, become voyeurs entangled in her life. In her ongoing series, Autobiographies/True Stories, for example, Sophie shares witty and strange anecdotes, but of course it is impossible to tell where reality ends and fiction begins. In the epic installation piece Take Care of Yourself (2007), which is seen as the most important work of her career, Sophie asked 107 women of different professions to interpret a break-up letter she received from her then-partner. These included a judge, composer, novelist, sexologist, anthropologist, actress, musician, dancer, philosopher, physicist, and her mother, amongst many others, who each provided a response from their professional perspective. The answers, displayed in photographs and videos, are clever, stirring, and often humorous.

The exhibition is a comprehensive retrospective of the fascinating work of Sophie Calle, a body of work which incorporates interesting episodes from her life and offers a glimpse to her unique vision of the world. Sophie’s art is thoroughly thought-provoking and moving and the exhibition is well-worth a visit. Make sure you have enough time to throw yourself into the work, be prepared for a lot of reading and, if you’re not a French speaker, don’t forget to pick up the translation pack at the entrance.

Sophie Calle: Modus Vivendi can be seen at La Virreina Centre de la Imatge until the 7th of June 2015.