Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself (excerpt)

The genesis of Take Care of Yourself, Sophie Calle’s mesmerizing collaborative piece recently on view at Paula Cooper, is a break-up letter her then-boyfriend (dubbed “X”) sent her via e-mail. Calle took the e-mail, and the paralyzing confusion that accompanies the mind’s failure to comprehend heartbreak, and distributed it to 107 women of various professions, skills, and talents to help her understand it—to interpret, analyze, examine, and perform it. The result of this seemingly obsessive schoolyard exercise is paradoxically one of the most expansive and telling pieces of art on women and contemporary feminism to pass through New York in recent years.

It is also very, very funny. The respondents range from a criminal prosecutor, a cartoonist, a clown (whose excitement over the author’s use of parentheses far exceeds her interest in the content), a markswoman (heard riddling the letter with bullets in an adjacent room), a teenager, an expert in women’s rights at the UN, and a nursery school teacher, who creates a list of age-appropriate reading questions, such as “How did the hero betray the pact?” Assuming the entirety of the gallery’s barn-like space, the exhibition includes large-scale photographs of the women, written analyses, and more than thirty monitors showing simultaneous performances, dramatic readings, and musical renditions. It’s easy to spend several absorbing hours in this interpretive hall of mirrors, completely enthralled, without getting any closer to having a clue what this letter means. If that was ever really the point.

Read the full essay at frieze magazine.