A few years ago, I went to see Sophie Calle’s work Take Care of Yourself in Paris. This work had originally been mounted in the French pavilion of the 2007 Biennale in Venice, but it was being shown again in the reading room of the old national French library in the Rue Richelieu. The idea behind the work was simple: after Calle received a break-up letter that ended with the sentence “Take care of yourself”, she started thinking about what this imperative might mean. So she asked one hundred and seven women to interpret the letter according to their professional activities, in the hope that this would help her understand the meaning of the words with which the letter ended. The reading room of the old library was filled with all the responses that Calle received.
What puzzled me as I was engaging with Calle’s work was the following question: what might be the relation between art and care-taking? Art is often presented to us as something that is in need of care-taking—Calle’s work for example was “curated” (from the Latin “curare”, to attend to, to care) by Daniel Buren. Artists need, it is said, citizens’ support. So where was it, exactly, that the practice of care-taking could be located in or with respect to Calle’s work? What about the fact that the work was also clearly suspicious of care-taking? Compare Calle’s project, for example, to a piece by a young German artist called Julia Prezewowsky. The work is entitled Up Yours and was part of a group exhibition entitled Species of Spaces. Images of the work show the legs of Kym Ward, the curator of the show, sitting in front of a wall of video-screens surveying all the works in the show. Built into the wall is a camera-lens that is filming under Ward’s skirt.
In an email correspondence that I had with the artist, Prezewowsky writes: “I attached a few pictures of my last piece called Up Yours shown in the Species of Spaces show that Kym ‘curated’ and I filmed under her skirt to undermine it. The whole show epitomized the idea of curation and contrivance through it, so Kym and I collaborated/ used each other’s work”. The reason I am interested in this work, as well as in Calle’s, is because care-taking is practiced here in other ways: it collaborates with its own undermining. It is interesting to see how that undermining comes about: through surveillance, through a recording of the curator’s “private parts”. The contemporary attempt to saturate life into its most intimate zones with power is turned against itself here in a clever move to unwork it–not to destroy it (the curating continues, after all; the artist and the curator are working together) but to change it in such a way that what results from it is another, wiser (which is not necessarily the same as better) form of care-taking.
References: Calle, Sophie. Prenez soin de vous (http://www.actes-sud.fr/pg/calle/extraits.php); Prezewowsky, Julia. Up Yours (http://www.julia-prezewowsky.com/). Image: Julia Prezewowsky, Up Yours, Installation, 2008; Kym Ward, Species of Spaces, Curation, Installation, Durational Performance, 2008; Photograph by Corin Ward.