PHYLLIS ODESSEY

A Room Of One’s Own Or Is It? Sophie Calle

SITE SPECIFIC
INSTALLATION


The Lowell Hotel
28 East 63 Street
NY, NY
October 13-October 16, 2011
12 midnight – 12 midnight


INSTRUCTIONS:
SIGN IN
with the concierge and you will be directed to Sophie’s room
Suite 3A. 

The Lowell Hotel is a small exclusive boutique hotel on the East side of Manhattan.  I always wanted to peek inside and this was my excuse.

I said to the concierge, “We are here to see the art installation.”

“Take the elevator to the third floor.”

Suite 3A is a suite, which means it has a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen.  Saturday morning proved a good time to go.  The only other person in the room was a hotel employee, who acted as the “guard.”  At first glance the rooms were overwhelming: over 40 tableau accompanied by text.

“Invited to exhibit in a hotel…I have chosen to introduce, in the room assigned to me, several objects that hold a sentimental place in my life, and that I have used for my autobiographical narratives.” Sophie Calle

The best way to explain this piece: show you around Suite 3A.
I have included the narratives that accompany the vignettes I photographed. 


“I wanted a love letter, but he would not write one to me.  One day, I saw the word “Sophie” written at the top of a piece of stationery.  This gave me hope.  Two months after our wedding, I noticed the edge of a piece of paper sticking out from under his typewriter.  I pulled it toward me.  The last line of the letter appear: “My confession is last night, I kissed the envelope with your letter and photo.”  I continued to read, in reverse:  “You asked me once I believed in love at first sight.  Did I ever answer you?”  At the top of the page I noticed these words were not addressed to me but a letter “H”.  I crossed out the “H” and replaced it with an “S”. This became the letter I had received.

“I nearly got married to a man who had been posted to China for three years.  That’s a long time.  Like a fiancee whose betrothed is bound for the front, I wanted to marry him on the runway at Roissy airport, just before he left.  The groom would step up into the plane as I stood on the tarmac.  The reception would be held without him and I would spend my wedding night alone.  We set the date for October 7, 20000.  Negotiations with the airport authorities, mayor’s agreement to officiate, license, guest list, dress – everything was ready.  Until a letter from the state prosecutor arrived refusing permission.  Weddings had to be celebrated on municipal premises, with two exceptions:  hospital, in the likelihood of imminent death of one of the betrothed or prison.  So, town hall, jail, agony, these were our choices.  Banal, radical or tragic. Still, on October 7, I did go to the airpport to wear my dress, just once, and to grieve for our wedding.  And I did go back home alone, as planned.”
“I was in love with him, but he had decided to leave me. To soften the break-up, he suggested a farewell trip of one week in Seville.  I liked the idea though it seemed painful. So, I accepted and we went.  On the last day, seeing my tears, H. told me a secret.  It was a terrible secret, which had poisoned his life.  And he was confiding it to me.  Only to me.  At the very moment he was depriving me of his love, this man offered me, through his confession, the ultimate proof of our intimacy.”

“I underwent a medical examination.  I had to fill out a six-page questionnaire of nearly 300 questions. To all except on, I answered NO.  Have you contracted rubella, variola, cholera, chickenpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, yellow fever, scarlet fever or typhoid?  Do you suffer from a heart murmur, high cholestrol, hypertension, diabetes?  Are you prone to vertigo?  Do you have headaches, stomachaches, palpitations, naursea, children, allergies, strokes, kidney stones, dizzy spells, epileptic seizures, lower back pain, gastro-intestinal disorders, inflamed gums, hearing troubles, blurred vision?  And suddenly, out of nowhere, lost amidst this sea of questions, the following one:  “Are you said?”
“I was thirty, and my father thought I had bad breath.  He made an appointment for me with a doctor whom he assumed was a general practitioner.  However, when I arrived at his office, I immediately realized that he was a psychoanalyst.  Given the hostility my father always expressed towards this profession, I was surprised.  “There must be some mistake,” I said.  “My father is convinced I have bad breath and he sent me to a GP.”  The man replied:  Do you always do what your father tells you to do? ” And so I became his patient.”

“When I was fifteen I was afraid of men.  One day in a restaurant, I chose a dessert because of its name:  “Young Girl’s Dream.”  I asked the waiter what it was, and he answered:  “It’s a surprise.”  A few minutes later he returned with a dish featuring two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a peeled banana.  He said one word:  “Enjoy.”  Then he laughed.  I closed my eyes the same way I closed them years later when I saw my first naked man.”

“When I was fourteen my grandparents suggested that I needed plastic surgery.  They made an appointment with a famous cosmetic surgeon, and it was decided that my nose should be straightened, that a scar on my left leg should be covered up with a piece of skin taken from my ass and that my ears should be pulled back.  I had doubts, but they reassured me, I could change my mind up until the very last moment.  In the end, though, it was Doctor F. himself who put an end to my dilemma.  Two days before the operation, he committed suicide.”

These narratives are amusing, sometimes unsettling and definitely well-crafted.  I want to sit on the sofa and absorb what I have just seen and read, but the guard won’t let me.  I keep walking around reading, photographing, trying to figure out why I feel pulled into the life of this person or  persona created by Sophie Calle.  Maybe it’s just that  I am feeling lonely today and her narratives make me feel part of something.      

 
… Each piece is a document of an event, of some kind of interaction in which Calle engages with the world in her unique way.  She explores the boundaries of how we interact with one another and what is – and is not – socially acceptable behavior.”
Hannah Duguid

Co-presented with
The Lowell Hotel and French Institute Alliance Francaise
Crossing the Line Festival

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