I have history with Sophie Calle’s dense and wordy series Take Care of Yourself and it wasn’t until this show that I was smitten. Working for a gallery that exhibited and inventoried this series I was briefly bombarded with reproductions and never got to experience them in person. I remember creating a checklist for a chunk but not all of the series and wishing I read french (although some actually are translated into English). It was a pain to clarify which multi-part photograph belonged where and which text based photo matched with which figure/actor/performer/woman professional. Hearing that some were available at Paula Cooper
I knew I had to see it albeit with a bit of hesitance as I wouldn’t have the time nor patience to read through the overwhelming collection of content. But the beauty of being a conceptual artist is that not all of it actually has to be consumed. It’s a compulsive need rather than a requirement for me to want to consume every word and detail in order to understand that the work encounters love and pain, and serves as a alternative coping method for the artist.
Basically, Calle receives a break up email from a douchebag coward boyfriend (who actually is also a well-known artist apparently) ending the message with “take care of yourself”. She fulfills his request by distributing the letter to 107 women asking them to interpret the letter in accordance with their professional field. The show at Cooper is a measly yet action packed response from individuals ranging from a female parrot, to clairvoyant, teenager, composer, accountant, sharpshooter, detective, her mother, copyeditor, school teacher, dancer, astronaut, mathematician, and crossword puzzler creator. Some are hysterical (parrot munching on printed email), others heartwrenching (indian dancer dancing solo with such emotional fervor, set on a gold and crimson stage and costume as if set within the heart of the artist), and prescriptive (clairvoyant and detective judge and analyze the man’s every word. A stream of videos lets you witness some of these people performing the letter through dance, song, and literal reading. The entrance wall is packed by a grid of portrait photographs Calle tooke of these individuals each in the act of reading within their personal environment.
We don’t see the artist. We merely but vividly catch a reflection of one person’s emotional discontent through the eyes and voices of many. Calle’s signature is hidden but not invisible, her authorship cast within a collective of authors. Each unique response is her means of taking care, exposing the weak only to make stronger, building a layer of defense that would allow her to carry on. The flaws may lie on the overtly emotional and sappy but it’s triumph that lingers on. I am drawn to the archival element to this series, the collecting, documenting, and expanding on one simple idea. The audacity to take one sentence and a baggage of pain to such far reaching levels provides an accessibility that is both welcoming and daunting and its this exact reaction that stirs me and keeps me in its company.