Sophie Calle (French, b. 1953)
After graduating from secondary school, Calle eschewed further schooling and instead spent seven years traveling through China, the United States, and Mexico. She never attended art school and often brushes off the label of artist, describing many of her projects as a “private game.” She insists, “I did not think about becoming an artist when I began. I did not consider what I was doing as art.”
Calle’s “private games” began on her return to Paris in the late 1970s, when she decided to follow strangers through the streets while aiming to reacquaint herself with the city. She also pursued photography, which she had picked up while living in California, and was inspired by the text-captioned work of American photographer Duane Michals (which her father collected). Voyeurism and surveillance became Calle’s primary artistic tactics. In her practice, Calle works in photography and installation, combining photos, texts, and videos to weave narratives of private experience, her own and that of others.
For her first major project, The Sleepers (1979), she invited strangers into her home to spend eight hours in her bed, while she documented their stay with notes and photographs. At the 1980 Bienal des Jeunes in Paris, she presented the photographs and notes in an installation that contrasted the intimacy of the photographs with the banality of textual descriptions written with cool anthropological detachment. The combination of portraiture, Conceptual art, and the public exposure of private experiences became hallmarks of Calle’s subsequent work.
Calle has shown her work extensively in Europe since the early 1980s, and in the United States since her first one-person exhibition at Fred Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1989. Major solo exhibitions include the retrospective M’as-tu vue? (Did you see me?, 2003–04) at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and a 2009 retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery, London. Calle lives and works in Paris.