A retrospective of Sophie Calle’s work was on exhibit in Barcelona this spring. I’ve always been a fan of the artist but hadn’t seen any of her recent work.

On display was the piece “Take care of yourself” (2007), which was originally exhibited at the French Pavilion of the Venice Biennial.


The piece consists of 107 interpretations of a Dear John letter Calle received. The artist requested the help of female friends coming from a range of professions, which are put to use in the work of “interpreting.”


Here the letter rendered by a sharp-shooter.

Other interpretations include an encryption, a forensic psychological analysis, many filmed performances, as well as contributions by a graphic designer, an etymologist, a judge, literary editors and authors, and an astute gesture by a parrot…

I first learned of Calle’s work in my senior year as an Art History student, when I was particularly interested in the encounter with art, both in and out of formal spaces like museums.

Hers was not the first performance or feminist work I had encountered, but there was something about her interest in resolving her artwork through everyday practices that I found amusing.

Collecting birthday gifts, color-coding her meals, imitating a character based on herself; Calle’s work seemed to question the artworld with an irreverent sincerity, both testing and affirming canonical practices.


It is fitting, therefore that I re-encounter Calle at the end of another degree (hopefully this one my last).

Again, I find great value in her work which resonates in a timely manner. Currently grappling with the transfer of fieldwork into text, I am delighted to find the 107 letters, a performatic take on reading and interpreting. Of note is the effect of the outsourcing, which causes the letter writer, Mr. X, to disappear behind the subjective reading of each contributor.

If qualitative inquiry is now concerned with voice and it’s implied authenticity, this exhibit reminds me that the researcher’s voice is not exempt. In this display, authors are introduced by their profession, providing context for their interpretation. How would an ethnographer respond, and how would that inform my reading of her letter?

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