Paul Greenfield MFA, ARPS

Sophie Calle (1953)

The Hotel, The Sleepers, The Chromatic Diet, Suite Venetienne, - The Chromatic Diet - Construction

Sophie Calle (born 9 October 1953) is a French writer, photographer, installation artist, and conceptual artist. Calle's work is distinguished by its use of arbitrary sets of constraints and evokes the French literary movement of the 1960s known as Oulipo. Her work frequently depicts human vulnerability and examines identity and intimacy. She is recognized for her detective-like ability to follow strangers and investigate their private lives. Her photographic work often includes panels of the text of her own writing.

Since 2005 Calle has taught as a professor of film and photography at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. She has lectured at the University of California, San Diego in the Visual Arts Department. She has also taught at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Exhibitions of Calle's work took place at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris; Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium; Videobrasil, SESC Pompeia, São Paulo, Brazil; Museum of Modern Art of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands. She represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for her publication My All (Actes Sud, 2016). In 2019 she was the recipient of the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship.

This is a two-part framed work comprising photographs and text. In the upper part, the title Room 47 is printed below a color photograph of elegantly carved wooden twin headboards behind a bed covered in rich brown satin. Below it, three columns of italic text are diary entries describing findings in the hotel room between Sunday 22 February 1981 and Tuesday 24. In the lower frame, a grid of nine black and white photographs shows things listed in the text above. This work is part of a project titled The Hotel, which the artist has defined:

On Monday, February 16, 1981, I was hired as a temporary chambermaid for three weeks in a Venetian hotel. I was assigned twelve bedrooms on the fourth floor. In the course of my cleaning duties, I examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed through details lives that remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6, the job came to an end. (Quoted in Calle, pp.140-1.)

Each of the twelve rooms gave rise to a diptych of the similar structure following the occupancy of one or more guests during the period of the artist’s employment at the hotel. Some rooms feature more than once as a second set of guests occupied them, giving rise to a total of twenty-one diptychs in the series. Calle’s descriptions of the hotel rooms and their contents combine factual documentation along with her personal response to the people whose lives she glimpsed by examining their belongings. Each text begins with the chambermaid/artist’s first entry into the room and a notation of which bed or beds have been slept in, with a description of the nightwear the guests have left. A list of objects usually follows as the artist transcribes her activities in the room. Calle is unashamedly voyeuristic, reading diaries, letters, postcards and notes written or kept by the unknown guests, rummaging in suitcases, and looking into wardrobes and drawers. She sprays herself with their perfume and cologne, makes herself up using the contents of a vanity case, eats food left behind and salvages a pair of women’s shoes left in the bin. Outside the room, she listens at doors, recording the occupants’ conversations or any other sounds she may overhear, and even peers into a room when the floor-waiter opens the door to catch a glimpse of the unknown guests.

Text Passage from The Hotel, Room 30
Wednesday, March 4, 1981. 11:20a.m.

"I go into room 30. Only one bed has been slept in, the one on the right. There is a small bag on the luggage stand. A beautifully ironed silk nightgown lies on the chair that has been pulled up near the bed: it clearly has never been worn. Everything else is still in the traveling bag. All I see there is men’s clothing: grey trousers, a grey striped shirt, a pair of socks, a toilet kit (razor, shaving cream, comb, aftershave lotion), a dog-eared photograph of a group of young people surrounding an older woman, a passport in the name of M.L., male sex, Italian nationality, born in 1946 in Rome, his place of residence, five foot seven, blue eyes. The bathroom is empty, so is the closet, but in the drawer of the night table, I find a box of Panter cigars, a fountain pen, airmail stationery, and a leather box with the initials M.L. On a piece of paper is the address of a Mr. and Mrs. B. in Florence, a wallet with five identical photographs of a blond woman and a wedding photograph showing the man in the passport in a tuxedo and the blond woman in a wedding gown. There is also an old bill from Hotel C., dated March 4, 1979, in the name of Mr. and Mrs. L for the same room, number 30. Exactly two years ago, M.L. spent the night in Hotel C. with his wife. He has come back alone. With the embroidered nightgown in his suitcase. His reservation was for last night only. He is leaving today. I’ll do the room later."
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