Movement and Stasis: Sophie Calle, a Cartographer of Surveillance Landscapes1

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World-renowned Sophie Calle causes contemporary art to join visual culture in its most exhibitionistic variants. Voyeurism, narcissism, and privacy mark the measured movement of an ongoing exploration of the private lives of strangers – as well as Calle’s own life – as a wide range of surveillance techniques is brought into play. Yet Sophie Calle’s provocative attitude does not prevent her artworks from creating either resistance or sensibility. Accordingly, the present essay addresses the ambiguity between assimilation and criticism in Calle by way of “movement” and “stasis.” In doing so it discusses how transgressive visual works, supported by writing, may turn into moments of resistance and even moments of sudden beauty. Referring to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s distinction between “striated” and “smooth” spaces, it is argued that Sophie Calle can be considered a late modern cartographer, in so far as she largely experiences reality in spatiotemporal constellations that cause displacement in that very reality. By mapping powerful regions of surveillance society, she simultaneously “de-territorialises” and “re-territorialises” social visual reality and contributes to making it sensible.

Several lines of interpretation of the complexities of Sophie Calle’s work combine this broader philosophical perspective provided by Deleuze and Guattari. First, the nature of contemporary art is questioned in light of French philosopher Anne Cauquelin’s theory on contemporary art, which leads to the portrayal of Sophie Calle as an artist who shifts back and forth between contemporary and modern art. Second, an analysis of Sophie Calle’s compelling artworks identifies three major movements at play in her art projects. Collecting, selecting, and recollecting represent different temporalities, strategies, and positions when it comes to encompassing forces that restructure reality. Drawing upon a number of Calles’s artworks, a closer examination emphasizes how integrated surveillance logics and communicational imperatives are counterbalanced by Sophie Calle’s meticulous combination of images and text. Finally, the Gotham Handbook, a project conceived in collaboration with Paul Auster, provides an interesting encounter of literature, performance, and urbanity.

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