Week 8 - Anish Kapoor, The Royal Academy / Sophie Calle, The Whitechapel Gallery
November 27 2009

Following David’s suggestion a group was set up to plan the January events.

Anish Kapoor, The Royal Academy
Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye, Royal Academy http://www.superfuture.com/supernews/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/anish-kapoor-royal-academy.jpg
Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye, Royal Academy http://www.superfuture.com/supernews/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/anish-kapoor-royal-academy.jpg

Thanks very much to Bayly and Emily for a superb review of the Anish Kapoor show at the Royal Academy. Personally I have always admired Kapoor’s work, which has had a (somewhat unfashionable perhaps) concern with aesthetics and a grappling with – and it’s hard to avoid the word – the ‘spiritual’. (I was once told by a tutor during my MA studies that I should ‘unpack’ the word ‘spiritual’ – which was probably very sound advice...). Kapoor’s work is also very architectural and it chimed with many of the themes around space and time which we have been exploring in the earlier sessions. What also came across in the presentation was Kapoor’s concern with issues of perception, reminding me oddly of Olafur Eliasson – though he is a very different artist...

Adam Brown, Sophie Calle

Adam Brown told me later that he was enormously impressed with the group, as well as with the previous presentation on Kapoor. Adam wove together a number of themes (beginning with his own interactive piece – the slide that only appears when there is sufficient noise in the room) around Sophie Calle. He compared her with a slightly earlier conceptual artist – Vito Acconci. It was an interesting comparison which contrasted Acconci’s quest for authenticity – very much a modernist concern, with Calle’s exploitation of the difficulty around authenticity – or her deliberate complicating of the issues – her involvement in palimpsests (mentioned in Gareth’s psychogeography talk), multi-authoring, and her transgressivness (an interesting contrast again with Acconci’s notoriously transgressive ‘Seed Bed’). Calle’s work can be considered ‘postmodern’ although this term is becoming more and more contested.

Sophie Calle, Talking to Strangers
Sophie Calle, Talking to Strangers http://media.areimer.co.uk/2009/10/sophie_calle.jpg
Sophie Calle, Talking to Strangers http://media.areimer.co.uk/2009/10/sophie_calle.jpg

For me, the Whitechapel show ‘Talking to Strangers’ was problematic. I like Calle’s work. But what was this show? And, what is she? Not really a photographer – more a performer, and a writer? Text heavy: how was the exhibition better than a book? Did the installations work in their own terms?

The main installation ‘Take Care of Yourself’ with 107 women interpreting an email from her partner ending the relationship, demanded a lot of reading, along with photos that were not really so interesting as photos, but rather as document. What we were confronted with throughout the exhibition is essentially documentation, a trace of the actual work. But, whereas her books stand up as close to the work itself – a reworking of the performance into a crafted form, the exhibition seemed to lack the qualities of the work itself. Occasionally was there some ‘authentic’ trace of Calle and her work that might justify and exhibition format – the drawn on pads of paper from the phone booth piece ‘Gotham Handbook’ (a piece I like very much as a kind of performance) – but of course Calle is not exactly authentic – authenticity is always open to question, meaning is twisted, complicated and subverted. Another piece where the exhibition format worked was The Bronx, 1980 in which residents of the Bronx took Calle to a place that meant something to them. Here, the original photos from the show were presented, adorned with the graffiti tags added by another resident of the Bronx while the works were first on show. A variation on Calle’s palimpsests.

There were exceptions – pieces that worked as exhibition, video especially – the installation Souci – with its mesmerising video of the death of her friend. I saw the looped video – the lifesize woman in bed. It looked like a still and it took some time for me to realise this was a video. It was poignant, even beautiful. The stillness of death. But I was less convinced by the associated prints – Souci in black on black. The video and the explanatory text seemed to say it all, and the prints added nothing more.

I also liked the video of Calle’s failure to make a piece using automatically captured film of customers at a US autobank withdrawing money – and what fascinating images they were – the human confronting a machine, filmed only by a machine – surveillance footage. The video documented Calle’s efforts over many years to make a piece from these films. A lovely irony, of a piece about a failure to make a piece, that, in revealing the process – as she always does – becomes a piece. It was compelling, wry, amusing – ‘What is money to you?’ she asked people in the street (that didn’t work either). She asks her doctor’s advice too. As with Souci though, it was the video, not the accompanying images that spoke to me.

Personally, since I like Calle’s work, her ideas, and her books especially, the exhibition held my interest, but... actually, I generally prefer her books. In these, authenticity, and the lack of it, does not present a problem, and indeed is a central multilayered concern. The encounter with Calle in her books is private, not public. And, in the books, her work does not feel as though it is been squeezed and shaped for extraneous reasons into something it is not.

Adrian Holme, December 2, 200

Sophie Calle, Talking to Strangers is on at the Whitechapel until January 3, 2010, Admission Free
Anish Kapoor, The Royal Academy, until December 11, 2009, Tickets 0844 209 1919