Sophie Calle – ‘I live with her’

My journey into soul midwifery has been peppered with cross overs, creating interesting and curious influences on my painting.

Sophie Calle,(SC) a french artist, has had a big influence on my painting and thinking. Her work takes me up close and interpersonal with everyday situations and difficulties. Her obsessive curiosity can leave me uncomfortable, but at the same time she delivers the answers I am looking for. Like her I am curious about death, and I wanted to share a piece of work that she did in 2007. It is titled Pas pu saisir la mort (couldn’t catch death). This piece is an instillation video of her mothers death. For me, it is a helpful insight into the paradox and ordinariness of death, it’s process, and how our earthly connections remain with those who have left.

I have transcribed her words from an interview that was given as part of a radio 4 programme called The Gamble -Naked, aired  November 1st 2017

Sophie calle. Pas pu saisur la mort

Above is a still from her film Pas pu saisir la mort (couldn’t catch death).

SC ” The Doctor gave her three months- I wanted to be sure, just before dying she didn’t have something to say that she didn’t tell me before? So I propose to her to put a camera, always working. And every time I would go out of the room, I would push the camera, and when I am not in the room she can talk to me. And it worked incredibly. Because first, when she saw the camera she said”finally”, because she always wanted to be the main subject of my work. She was center stage. She would go on the table anywhere possible, sing, she was incredibly funny, so she was always the pole of attraction. To film my father dying would have been a real act of aggression, I didn’t even think about it. Just to laugh one day I told him, do you mind if I do the same for my mother, and he said “are you crazy”? But when he saw my mother’s show he loved it. I showed it to my close friends, my brother, all said it was OK, nobody who sat close to her asked me not to do it.

SC “I wanted to have the last breath, I wanted to have the last word…. I felt it. I was having lunch, I stood up and I say, I am sorry, I have to go, it’s now. And I got up to the room and she died. After, Robert Storr (RS), Curator of the 2007 Venice Biennial, said “Can you do something about it”? and I said “No, I cannot even look at it’. Finally, I decided to look just at the last hour. So far, I have never watched the rest, ever, so I don’t know if she told me something? I just could not watch it. And it was very strange for me that last hour, because, I could not decide if she was dead or not? It was a no-mans land; the period between life and death, and it lasted 11 minutes. It was those 11 minutes that I showed when I did the work about her.

RS ” The tape is a very powerful, quiet tape of somebody just stopping. As you are looking at somebody who’s breath is shortening and shortening and shortening, you don’t know at which minute death occurs? Socially there is very little work about the simple fact of dying. There is a lot of work about killing, just the fact that we run out the clock, is something that relatively little work focuses on. Many people who have died have simply run out the clock, they have had enough, and I think that was the case for Sophie’s mother, and I think she was quiet at peace.

Sophie Calle rarely looks at the piece once it is up and running, but she recalls a moment in the London gallery, when she felt compelled to step in.

SC. I give a look, and I see a woman very close to the screen. Then I come back one hour later, for the same reason to see if it is working, same woman, same place. I leave. I come back one hour later, same woman, same place. So I understood that something is wrong there. I took the woman by the hand and I took her outside; and she was in tears. And I said “it’s enough, just don’t stay there. it’s too painful for you, don’t stay there and she said “thank you for taking me out, I could not get out”. Obviously she was not crying for my mother, so I don’t know what she is crying about, her mothers death? Death in general?

SC. My mother is with me since that day, everyday, because we are just talking about her right now. For one month I install the work in the church of my mother. If she would pass by that door right now, I am not sure I would be surprised, she is there. So in that sense it is incredible. I live with her. I live with her.

In a recent interview with Eva Wiseman of the Guardian she she describes her new work Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery’ (2017) where 200 people buried private messages, she says…

“Hospitals and graveyards are not places that paralyse me. They inspire me and my work, it’s what has always been attracting me – absence, missing, death…” She has already commissioned her headstone. At the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, 200 people told her their secrets which she wrote down and dropped into her grave, then hung around for a cheery picnic. To some, she says, she was an artist, others a priest, others a brick wall.

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