Part 3: About Suite Venetienne

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Suite Venetienne stemmed from a time when Calle had moved back to Paris after a decade of travelling. As a way to re-acquaint herself with her home she followed strangers on the streets taking photos of them. She discovered that observing the behavior and actions of these strangers provided information with which to make up identities and stories about them. In 1980 one of the men she followed on the street in this fashion was, by chance, introduced to her at a party later that day. He mentioned that he was about to leave for a vacation in Venice and Calle decided to take her intrusive, detective style photography a step further and actually follow him to Venice. She spent thirteen days covertly photographing the man until he recognized her and asked her to stop. Calle published her surveillance of the man accompanied by narrative style text which included her assumptive stories of his travels and life. The emphasis of her projects is on artistic idea rather than finished object which is why the photos look so unpolished and more like surveillance photos.

Sophie Calle, through her work, often questions the role of the spectator by forcing the viewers into a sense of unease, making them unwitting collaborators in these violations of privacy. In Calle’s The Shadow, another work that follows this strange and invasive pattern,we see images of Calle being followed for a day by a private detective who had been hired (at Calle’s request) by her mother. She proceeded to lead the unwitting detective around parts of Paris that were particularly important to her. In Address Book, having recently found an address book on the street (which she photocopied and returned to its owner), she decided to telephone some of the contacts from the book and speak to the people about the book’s owner. To the transcripts of these conversations, Calle added photographs of the man’s favorite activities, creating a portrait of a man she never met by way of his acquaintances. The work was published, but upon seeing it, the owner of the address book, a documentary filmmaker named Pierre Baudry, threatened to sue the artist for invasion of privacy.

In planning for my discussions I knew that I did not want to introduce any of this information to the viewer. As the director of the conversation, I felt more comfortable knowing the background and concept of the work but I wanted viewers to rely on letting the questions slowly lead them to a bigger picture instead of starting with the answers to the questions and then trying to get deeper from an already deep place. In past discussions I have mostly given the explanation of the work of art prior to group interpretation and then asked questions later, still expecting the level of interaction that takes place when a group of people work to come to an understanding together from knowing nothing.

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