Today I took a trip out to Louisiana to see Sophie Calle's work. I was introduced to this unique French artist by a good friend of mine this summer, and was very excited to see some of it in person today. And I wasn't disappointed: Calle's work was quirky, serious, whimsical, and relatable, all at once. In one project, she found a man's address book on the streets of Paris. After photocopying the entries, she returned the missing little black book to its owner; she then picked a dozen or so of the addresses and contacted the people to "know" this stranger without ever actually meeting him. In another work, a fan recently separated from his long-time girlfriend wrote to Calle. He explained that he loved her work and wished to spend his time recuperating from the breakup in her house, specifically sleeping in her bed. Not with her, mind you--he just wanted to use her bed. Calle had the bed, mattress and frame and all, shipped overseas to the man, and he returned it several weeks later with a thank-you letter. The bed was on display today, along with the man's bizarrely innocently charming correspondence. Calle's body of work was intriguing and incredibly personal, but the highlight was her 2007 project entitled Take Care of Yourself.
A while back, Calle's then long-time boyfriend broke up with her. The man, dubbed "X" to protect his (now-infamous) identity, did so in the form of a letter, the contents of which would be considered frustrating for most women to read. He ended with the charming sign-off, "Take care of yourself. --X." Not sure of what to make of the letter's contents, and in an effort to move on after the break-up, Calle showed the letter to 107 women in all areas of work and asked them to interpret, explain, react to, answer, etc., in whatever way they wished. The result is a magnificently intimate collection about love, and how we deal with the end of a love. There was a rifle shooter who, from a far distance, shot bullet holes through the word "love" three separate times on the paper. An etoile from the Paris Opera Ballet angrily crumpled the letter, stuffed it into the toe of her pointe shoe, and proceeded to pique around a rehearsal studio before collapsing into a heap on the floor. A zoologist fed the paper to her ill-tempered parrot; a legal expert defined hidden "contractual terms" the anonymous man had laid out in the text; an accountant came to the conclusions that the assets of two separate statements--"I will always love you" and "I can never become your friend"--were equal. I loved this room of women and the strong rawness of their reactions to a break-up which was not even their own. I copy the letter here for you, then, to form your own response. And remember: Take care of yourself.
I have been meaning to write and reply to your email for a while. At the same time, I thought it would be better to talk to you and tell you what I have to say out loud. Still, at least it will be written.
As you have noticed, I have not been quite right recently. As if I no longer recognized myself in my own existence. A terrible feeling of anxiety, which I cannot really fight, other than keeping on going to try and overtake it, as I have always done. When we met, you laid down one condition: not to become the "fourth." I stood by that promise: it has been months now since I have seen the "others," because I obviously could find no way of seeing them without making you one of them.
I thought that would be enough, I thought that loving you and your love would be enough so that this anxiety--which constantly drives me to look further afield and which means that I will never feel quiet and at rest or probably even just happy or "generous"--would be calmed when I was with you, with the certainty that the love you have for me was the best for me, the best I have ever had, you know that. I thought that my writing would be a remedy, that my "disquiet" would dissolve into it so that I could find you. But no. In fact it even became worse, I cannot even tell you the sort of state I feel I am in. So I started calling the "others" again this week. And I know what that means to me and the cycle that it will drag me into.
I have never lied to you and I do not intend to start lying now.
There was another rule that you laid down at the beginning of our affair: the day we stopped being lovers you would no longer be able to envisage seeing me. You know this constraint can only ever strike me as disastrous, and unjust (when you still see B. and R. ...) and understandable (obviously...), so I can never become your friend.
But now you can gauge how significant my decision is from the fact that I am prepared to bend to your will, even though there are so many things--not seeing you or talking to you or catching the way you look at people and things, and your gentleness towards me--that I will miss terribly. Whatever happens, remember that I will always love you in the same way, my own way, that I have ever since I first met you; that it will carry on within me and, I am sure, will never die.
But it would be the worst kind of masquerade to prolong a situation now when, you know as well as I do, it has become irreparable by the standards of the very love I have for you and you have for me, a love which is now forcing me to be so frank with you, as final proof of what happened between us and will always be unique.
I would have liked things to have turned out differently.
Take care of yourself,