venice art bienalle

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Sophie Calle,  Take Care of Yourself, Venice Bienalle, 2007

When Sophie Calle’s lover dumped her several years ago, she decided to re-send the letter that ended the affair to 107 different women. Among the readers were a judge, a rapper, a psychoanalyst, a novelist and a family therapist. Their written responses are the starting point for Take Care of Yourself (2007), the central piece in this eponymous comprehensive exhibition of Calle’s work at Lillehammer Kunstmuseum. Eighty-eight analyses of that break-up letter are presented here – hung on the wall or, in some cases, displayed on large tables in the centre of the room. All of the readings are accompanied by a stylized photograph of the interpreter involved in the act of reading the letter in question. But not all of them write; some respond through dance, recital or song, and these performative readings are presented in a multi-screen video collage on the wall.

The original letter, which ends with the words ‘Take care of yourself’, reveals the thoughts of a man who is unable to be faithful. While his missive was obviously a form of rejection disguised as compassion, it was also an order to do something – to accept failure. But instead of limiting the reading of the letter to closure, Calle insists on using it as a connective tissue for solidarity among women. She converts it into a collective object, a conversation piece, enacted and read publicly by a multitude of strong women – all of whom skilfully translate the letter into their specific field of knowledge. With the exception of a parrot repeating ‘Take care of yourself,’ the respondents are all authorities in their respective disciplines. The only weakness in the work lies here: where is the anonymous, everyday woman, who would surely have something to say as well? In any case, the expanded act of reading rewrites the coordinates of failure. What was at first limiting and destructive, through this joint effort produces a library of responses with an almost encyclopaedic versatility: viewers can reference this library to redefine other kinds of apparent rejection or failure. In this sense Take Care of Yourself is a generous, humanist and even an emancipatory work. (Frieze Magazine)