Photo: ©Arlene Kim; Art Direction: The Magazine of Yoga.
Interview, part two. The author of What have you done to our ears to make us hear echoes? talks about Sophie Calle, art, life and yoga.
BY THE MAGAZINE OF YOGA STAFF
Website Milkweed Editions
Author’s website quietly bananas
Related post Practices: Arlene Kim
The Fifth Question: Honoring and gratitude
You are awarding The Magazine of Yoga Cultural Currency Award to your choice of an artist – any artist, not necessarily a poet – who is bringing the conversation forward in some way. That may be by enlarging the audience (i.e. translating a writer who we’ve not had access to), enlarging what can be considered in artistic practice (new forms, new collaborations) or evolves their art in a way that moves you/instigates a progression you feel is important.
Who is this artist and what do you want to say about her or him?
Sophie Calle. She is a French artist, and I use the word “artist” in the broadest sense of that word—she’s a writer, a photographer, a performer, a filmmaker—she embraces all forms of art. She’s done so much that rather than repeat all that’s written about her and her projects here, I suggest you start with this biography on her faculty page at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and then explore the videos and links from there. Half the fun of learning about her is finding your own route through her work based on what calls to you.
(My route was first through her quasi-documentary Double-Blind (No Sex Last Night),then to the photos of The Shadow and most recently to The Address Book.)
But what I do want to say about her is that in addition to exploring themes like subject vs. object, private vs. public, and perceived self vs. some essential self, her work invites us to see the process behind the art—the work of creating art—as very much part of the art itself.
Witness to one another as we become
Some biographies use the term “conceptual artist” to describe Calle. Perhaps this is most accurate and also, for me, what stands out about her and what she has done to enlarge the ways we think about art—that is, she not only allows us to see the concept, but also to see the concept as art.
What a contrast from the still widespread notion that art is some perfect, polished thing divorced from its drafts, its originating ideas and messy processes. I think it’s a significant, relevant enlargement of our approach to art given the prevalence of the remake, the remix, the reblog, retweet, and repost in a time when so much of how we come to think what we think is exposed via the wondrous 24/7 stage of technology. More than ever, we are witness to things and people as they are made, and acknowledging that art is a made thing, a thing that is conceived and worked on, is part of embracing our modern state of evolving and practicing ourselves in front of one another as we become one thing after another.
When she makes a film like Double-Blind (No Sex Last Night) in which she and her partner document and narrate a road trip and the breakdown of their relationship, she uses the process of recording separate video diaries as a way not only to produce the final art object (the film) but also to emphasize that the process of creating art is not separate from the resulting art itself, just as the progression of tension and distance in a relationship is not separate from the resulting split.
The Address Book: self as time
I recently got to see her project The Address Book in person at the Henry Art Gallery here in Seattle, WA. In that work, Calle interviewed the people listed in an address book, which she found on the street, to construct a picture of the book’s owner. She said she wanted to get a sense of who the owner was through his friends, co-workers, family; she saved meeting the owner for last. The exhibit featured published writing and photos from the meetings.
Again, what struck me about this piece was how the process of creating the art and the art itself — the things hanging on the wall in the gallery—were treated as equally important. Included in the writing were also moments when people declined to answer questions or even to meet her—in a way, moments of failure. But there it all was for us to witness. It felt like a moment of expanded and compressed time in which I could see everything—the final art piece, the inception, the frustrations and successes, the work of piecing it together—all at once.
The same is true of her work The Shadow in which she has her mother hire a private detective to follow her around, report on her doings, and “provide photographic evidence of [her] existence.” The detective is not aware that she is aware of him, nor does he know that as he is taking photos and notes on her, she is also taking photos and notes on herself. The resulting photographs and text that comprise the piece are an exhibit of the ways we exist, how we make ourselves exist, how we view art, how we make art come to exist within our own existence, perhaps even how we make ourselves art.
The Beautiful Practice
Calle’s work helped me understand something that happened awhile back after a yoga class.
My husband and I had just started doing yoga, and he seemed to suffer through every session because of his inflexibility. Though we both improved after steadily attending class for several weeks, for him it was still a struggle every time. This was particularly noticeable to me because there happened to be a group of professional ballet dancers who came to that class after their rehearsals. They were, of course, flexible, strong, graceful, effortless with each asana. They took every advanced pose and never seemed to battle their bodies or gravity; they practically levitated.
One of those afternoons, as I was wiping down our mats and my husband was wiping himself down (all that struggling makes for a lot of sweating), a woman from the class came over to us and said to him, “I just wanted to tell you that you have a beautiful practice.” When she had left the room, he and I looked at each other with shared “new-agey yoga people are so odd” expressions, and for the rest of the day, her comment became our private joke. Any time one of us would fumble or flub something, we would say, “what a beautiful practice you have” and laugh.
Then, after seeing Sophie Calle’s work at the Henry a few weeks ago, I started thinking about this idea of process being part of the art, about how the idea and the art object are not always separate things, and about how sometimes the idea itself is the art. And out of nowhere I remembered that incident after the yoga class. And I got it.
The result and the process are equally important
Suddenly I got that I had not gotten what that woman had been saying to my husband — she understood this concept of not divorcing process from end result; she could see that though yoga was difficult for my husband, his dedication to practicing it would eventually get him to a place where he and his body could achieve a truce. In a sense, she saw ahead in time to where he would be as a result of the process he was going through now, and that was beautiful.
I’m humbled by this understanding. Although I could see how Calle was showing this to us through art, it took me awhile to understand how it applied to us as people, as beings. I get now how we are all both the practice of ourselves and the resulting person at every moment; I get how we are always practicing ourselves. Thanks to Calle and to that woman from the yoga class, I understand the huge importance and magnitude of this practice, the process of becoming. And yes, it is beautiful.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.