She makes art that is intimate, romantic, funny, dramatic and confessional And yet after four decades there are still new truths about Sophie Calles past to be revealed. Eva Wiseman visits her at her home in Paris and hears an astonishing revelation
It is extremely important to Sophie Calle that she is able to disappear at a moments notice. That tomorrow she could lock the door behind her and become somebody else, somebody other than an artist whose 38-year career has involved documenting and exhibiting the most intimate details of her life. Calles father (the man she says she became an artist for, as a metaphorical seduction) died two years ago; her mother (whose deathbed she filmed, showing her final breaths at the Venice Biennale) in 2006. Last year her cat died she is making an album about him. My last dependent. Which means that now I could leave in one hour, forever. And maybe one day, Ill use that.
Its a hot day in the Parisian suburb Calle has lived in for almost 40 years. Inside her house, a glass-fronted studio hidden behind a graffitied garage door, its cool and smells of freesias which Calle picks through as she talks. She is an artist who works with absence, whether stolen paintings in an exhibition of missing art, or boyfriends who have left. She publishes delicate books of photography and text, work thats won as many eye-rolls for its Emin-adjacent intimacy as it has prizes. And at 63, she is finally about to break America, with her first full-career retrospective opening this week.
In 1978, when she was 25, she returned to Paris after seven years abroad. Her father, a doctor and pop art collector, had paid for her travels as a prize for completing a degree under Jean Baudrillard, who agreed to fake her diploma to help her escape round the world. Back in Paris, her mother now on her third marriage, she moved in with her father. To impress him, she decided to make art. Weeks passed, and she struggled to find a routine. One day, she decided to follow a stranger. She chose a person a day, stalked them through their lives and, in doing so, found her own. One of these trails (which took her to Venice in a blonde wig) became a piece called Suite Venetienne, which launched her strange and mutable career, one anchored in rules and routine. In the accompanying essay, Baudrillard considers, the sensuality of behind-the-scenes power: the art of making the other disappear.