Friday, 26 November 2010

Sophie Calle at Palais de Tokyo

“Rachel Monique”, is the Sophie Calle installation at the Palais de Tokyo which I managed to see in Paris last week. The show sadly closes tomorrow, the 27th November, so if you haven’t seen it, I hope this can explain what you missed.

There are few shows in this world that really move you, or have the ability to deeply affect you, but Sophie Calle’s was one of them for me. I can honestly say it must be one of, if not the best show I have ever seen. Even as I write this now, recalling what I saw and experienced, something changes in me, physically and emotionally. I am still so touched by the tenderness, the honesty and poignant reminders of grief brought about by this exhibit.

The installation is about the death of Calle’s mother, and brings together a collection of video, old family photographs, new imagery and objects to the lower ground, unused part of the Palais de Tokyo. The broken concert floors, the unfinished walls only enhance your experience as you wonder through a memorial for a woman you never knew. What is immediately apparent is stillness, a silence that one rarely witnesses in a gallery anymore. This is certainly achieved through the strict entrance limit of 30 people, but its more than just that. There is a real sense of respect paid to the works, as if you are walking through a grave, or a witness to her funeral.

Behind tall, metal fences you see black and white photographs, shipping containers marked with Calle’s name and destinations of places the works, or some have been exhibited. Mixed with these are vases of flowers, notably white lily’s, the flower for death placed carefully in front of an image or in the middle of the concert floor. Each flower is fresh, reminding us of her grief and what has recently passed.

One video work in particular moved me so deeply, tears streamed down my cheeks. We see two different views, to the left Calle’s dying mother being tendered to and to the right a floating iceberg in the North Pole. As you watch the two films unfold, you witness the moment of death juxtaposed to the cold yet calming swirl of the iceberg in the sea. Having recently lost someone very dear to me and seen him in his casket, the coldness was very familiar. What was so beautiful about this piece was the honesty, the rawness of the action, but produced with such dignity. I could of watched that film for hours, over and over again.

I could go on and on about the installation, but I feel this helps to explain a little of what the exhibits achieved. It proved to me that you can produce a body of work, solely on death, a death close to you which not only creates something beautiful and inspiring, but something that brings light back into a dark place.

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