Research – Sophie Calle & Sophy Rickett

Research point

Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field (see interview in the Appendix to this course guide) where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.

Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log.

  • How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
  • Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio.

Post-Modernism 

I began this research by looking at what Post-Modernism really is (1), interestingly, many people, even artists and designers still seem to have only a loose understanding of what the term truly defines. Charles Jencks (1 – 1m 44s) described it as meaning absolutely nothing and everything. However it seems, in a nutshell to be an art movement which moved away for the modernist effect of making everything perfect, simple and utopian to creating something more complex. It was rethinking and reworking the way things were done previously. It was a challenge. It gave art the ability to be freer and allow for exploration. 

Take Care of Yourself – Sophie Calle

In this exhibit Sophie Calle took a break up letter she had been sent by her lover and asked 107 different women from all backgrounds and occupations, what their analyse and opinion was to the letter. She exhibited their responses along with photography portraits (of them reading the letter) and videos. 

This exhibit is an interesting form of therapy. In an interview with the Guardian (2) Calle spoke of how she deals with shocking events and hurt by exploring them through art and turning it into a project or a “game”. The underlines of heartbreak and how it can make one feel to be dumped are made even more apparent with the back and forth of soul searching and answer-seeking of this exhibit. It shows exactly how many women would deal with such an event. However, usually it is done in private with friends and many bottles of wine! It is relatable and accessible, there is no need to send the viewer down a specific path with a more direct message, it isn’t at all about how she (the photographer), herself, feels about it. 

The narrative here, gives the viewer insight and information via the personal opinions of these women but doesn’t lead anyone to a specific message or outcome. The photographs, text and videos all compliment each other, working on the same level as each other and providing the viewer with snippets of information intending to make you explore your own conclusion. There is no obvious, specific intention other than this, of the exhibit itself. Calle said (3) that it was up to the viewer of how they should take it, she did not want any specific reaction from them. 

Jonathan Jones described this exhibit (4) like reading a brilliant and innovative contemporary novel. Which is slightly mistaken in my opinion, since a novel will usually lead you somewhere towards an ending of sorts. This exhibit is more of a discussion for me, it’s a back and forth and a reflection of an ending that has already occurred. 

Daphne Merkin in the NY times (5) writes, that in fact, Calle’s work is not technically compelling, that she is not a photographer and that no one ever really talks about her photography. But in fact, she is more of a writer or storyteller who uses means that are unusual. Personally, I can appreciate Calle’s photography but it is certainly more complete with the text that accompanies it. She describes Calle’s work as a form of contemporary, personal mythologizing which uses the material of her own life as a typical example of something. The author questions whether Calle is extraordinarily imaginative or extraordinarily self-absorbed. She questions whether Calle’s work is even art in any recognisable sense of the word. The author points out that many of her detractors are male and that men are afraid of it. This plays into the feminism of Calle’s work, which seems to me, there are certainly undertones of this, especially in this exhibit. 

So, how does this work reflect the postmodern approach to narrative? Whilst trying to get my head around exactly what post-modernism is, with my understanding, Calle’s work plays with the intertextuality, it is about the relationship between the differing views of the dumper and his analysts. It also explores the relationship between the reader/viewer and that of the text that they are reading. There is irony when you question that does any of it really matter? For all the 107 opinions, the outcome remained the same. Of course, there is Maximalism at play, since an entire exhibit was defined by one simple email. 

Post Modern Narrative

With regards to literature, Post-modernism is described as having the following characteristics: 

  • Intertextuality – How texts relate to other texts and the relationship between them. 
  • Metafiction – Text that emphasises its status as text, in other words, the realisation and highlight of the fiction through the text. 
  • Pastiche – An artistic style that imitates that of other works, a sort of collage of ideas and genres. 
  • Maximalism – embracing excess
  • Irony – a sort of sarcasm that can be playful, or be used to highlight the absurdity or severity of serious situations.
  • Hyperreality – the inability to distinguish between reality from a simulation of reality. The idea that everything has already been done and now you will only find a rework on previous ideas. 
  • Paranoia – unjustified suspicion and mistrust
  • Fragmentation – Fragmented ideas in which the chaos of the world were embraced and explored. 

Objects in the Field – Sophy Rickett

Objects in the field, was a body of work produced by Sophy Rickett, following an encounter she had with Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired scientist who, over the years, had collected a number of black and white negatives via a three mirror telescope he has built (7). She produced “Objects in field” (the title being inspired from the way that astronomers refer to stars and objects in the sky). The project consisted of prints, collages with text, found photographs and a video with sound and text. 
She printed a number of Willstrop’s negatives by hand using the analogue process and then manipulating them according to her own decisions. 
The text accompanying the project reflected on memories from her past as well as a more factual description of her encounter with Willstrop. 
Similar to Calle, Rickett’s photography is supported by additional elements, the photography itself, although edited and reproduced by her, is in fact, someone else’s creation. The images themselves, do not stand alone particular well. 

In the review by David Franchi (8) Rickett’s project is described as being an analysis of the impermanency of meaning and the interpretation, though their redefinition. Of course, this describes a common post-modern concept of hyperreality (a rework of previous ideas). In this review it is questioned as to whether the technical side of this exhibit, overshadows the artistic side. The piece was described as being quite minimalist, which isn’t necessarily something you find within the post-modern movement. However, although seemingly minimalist, the exhibit with simple photographs and descriptions, I wonder if it actually has the opposite effect. Similar to the way Calle took a simple break-up letter and created an entire exhibit around it, Rickett took some old, forgotten negatives and brought them back to life and gave them the recognition these negatives, they would otherwise, never have realised. 

Rickett describes this work as a kind of failure (9) in that, she had attempted to build a similarity between herself and her work, and that of the Drs and this wasn’t something she achieved, so instead, decided to concentrate on the tension between the differences. Her work developed and evolved in it’s meaning, as she produced it. She also talked about the stories ambiguity (as it is read and played as a recording with the Dr narrating it), she said that it isn’t always clear exactly whose story was being told. She did highlight, however, that the story was central to this exhibit. 

There is no real definition to genre or message here (another post-modern concept). There is the cross-over with science, the documentarian nature of the shots, the deeper meaning left to discover (although rather ambiguous and left quite open) and the mix with the somewhat conflicting narrative, that isn’t completely factual since, she also reflects on previous experiences of her childhood, which don’t really seem to add much or relate to, the current description of her present encounter with the Dr. She highlights, that although the material stays the same, the interpretation is highly contested. 

Interestingly, there isn’t the same reaction that Calle achieved, the outcome on the viewer seems quieter and more reflective, it isn’t shocking or uncomfortable. There aren’t the questions enacted in the way Calle’s exhibition elicits. These two are wildly different from each other, yet they are both described as post-modern. Other than the complexity and ambiguousness of the two pieces, both without direct messages to the viewer and with more of a exploration through the depths, there are no similarities. This, I believe is exactly, why post-modernism can be so hard to define and why, initially, I had a hard time to grasp it.  

References:

  1. Video: V&A What is Post-Modernism? https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/what-is-postmodernism?gclid=Cj0KCQiA-bjyBRCcARIsAFboWg3siJ1GnyU4GcgRqFWUwMEoGS4PVe846Mdb1h2SzYj-FSt_i6RR-YwaAos4EALw_wcB
  2. Interview with Sophie Calle, The Guardian. 2007 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art
  3. Video Interview with Sophie Calle, 2007 https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sophie-calle-2692/sophie-calle-dumped-email
  4. Jones, J, Sophie Calle 2009 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/oct/19/sophie-calle-review
  5. Merkin, D. I Think, Therefore I’m Art 2008 https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/style/tmagazine/19calle.html
  6. Postmodern Literature Characteristics https://www.shmoop.com/postmodern-literature/characteristics.html
  7. Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field – Inside HSM Oxford. 2014 https://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/insidemhs/sophy-rickett-objects-field/
  8. Franchi, D. Exhibition Object in the Field by Sophy Rickett at the Grimaldi Gallery, London. London Art Reviews. 2014 https://londonartreviews.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/exhibition-object-in-the-field-by-sophy-rickett-at-the-grimaldi-gallery-london/
  9. Boothroyd, S. Interview with Sophy Rickett. 2013 https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/sophy-rickett/