534 W 21st Street
NEW YORK—The Paula Cooper Gallery is pleased to present Exquisite Pain, an exhibition by acclaimed French artist Sophie Calle. The exhibition will be on view from May 7 through June 25, 2005, at 534 West 21st Street. This will be the artist’s second one-person exhibition with the gallery since Double Game, in February – March 2001.
In 1984 I was awarded a grant to go to Japan for three months. I left on October 25, not knowing that this date marked the beginning of a 92-day countdown to the end of a love affair—nothing unusual, but for me then the unhappiest moment of my whole life.
I got back to France on January 28, 1985, cursing my trip. When people asked me how it was, I skipped the Far East and told them about my suffering instead. In exchange for this account, I started asking both friends and chance encounters: “When did you suffer most?” I decided to do this systematically until I had managed to relativize my pain by comparing it with other people’s, or had worn out my own story by sheer repetition. The method was radically effective: three months later, I was no longer suffering. The exorcism had worked.
However, fearing a possible relapse, I decided not to exploit the experience artistically. By the time I returned to it, fifteen years had gone by.
Exquisite Pain is a large installation in two parts. The first part of the project presents Calle’s trip preceding her catastrophe, told through collected photos and ephemera of 92 days that the artist saw as a countdown to her rejection and despair. Each photograph or document is stamped with a number indicating the remaining amount of “days until unhappiness”.
The second part of the exhibition pairs Calle’s story, told repeatedly from several different angles, with others’ recollections of pain and heartache. The stories are embroidered on linen and presented as twenty-one diptychs, with one version of Calle’s story (on dark grey linen) accompanying an anonymous story (on white linen). Over each embroidery is a photograph illustrating an aspect of the memory being retold. In the case of the artist’s story, the same photograph is repeated: that of a red telephone in a hotel room, the telephone from which she heard that her love affair had ended.
Since her first works in the late 1970s, Sophie Calle has achieved international prominence. She is well-known for her sleuth-like explorations of human relationships, which led her, for instance, to follow a stranger in the streets of Venice and document his every move, or to find work as a hotel chambermaid in order to photograph the belongings of the hotel’s guests. Calle’s work has been shown in such venues as the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston), the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Museum Boymans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo), among others. Exquisite Pain was recently exhibited as part of ‘M’as-tu vue,’ a one-person exhibition which premiered at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in October 2003 and traveled to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin), the Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin) and the Ludwig Forum für International Kunst (Aachen). This will be its first showing in the United States.
Exquisite Pain was recently published in book form by Thames & Hudson. A book signing and conversation with Prof. Yve-Alain Bois (Harvard University) will take place at 192 Books, 192 Tenth Avenue (at 21st Street), on Tuesday, May 10th, 2005, at 7 p.m.