Room Service: Sophie Calle at the Lowell Hotel
A photo report by Robin Siegel of a visit to Sophie Calle’s Room at the Lowell Hotel, New York, October 2011
What is it about French artist Sophie Calle, beds and hotel rooms? There was The Sleepers, (1980) The Hotel, (1981) Room with a View, (2003) Exquisite Pain (2003) and now, Room. For one weekend in mid-October, Calle took up residence 24/7, so to speak, in Suite 3A at the Lowell Hotel on New York City’s Upper East Side. Room, a new installation by Calle, was commissioned by the French Institute Alliance Française as part of their “Crossing the Line” annual contemporary art festival.
In order to construct Room, Calle very deliberately strewed a stuffed cat, banana, wedding dress, embroidered sheets, black brassiere, red bucket, blond wig, Polaroids, and all sorts of printed ephemera, including love letters, notes and a certificate for a cemetery plot she purchased in Bolinas, California throughout the suite’s three rooms. She manipulates and blurs the line between fact and fiction. Many of the items Calle culled for this installation have been seen in her previous installations and books. In true-to-form Calle style, each object was accompanied by what appeared to be an autobiographical text by Calle typed out on an index card, often expounding on her relationships with men, family members; sometimes revealing events that took place in her life or even her very own perceptions of herself. Visitors milled about the suite quietly reading the copious text while scrutinizing the objects.
Adding a rather strange dimension to the already odd feeling of being a voyeur in a stranger’s hotel room was the artist’s presence, itself, in the suite, at times. At one point Calle burst into the room, speaking French to a young woman watching guard over the installation, and then plopped down on the couch, beginning to busily type away on her laptop, French news blaring all the while from the nearby TV. No one addressed her at all. She jumped up at one point and walked into the bedroom and then back to the living room. It was difficult to know if no one spoke to her due to not recognizing her, or for lack of desire to break through that fourth wall.
A handwritten message on a board off to one side of the living room proclaimed:
What happens is always so far ahead of us, that we can never catch up to it and know its true appreciation.
Indeed. Or, as they say in French: certes.
Accompanying text card reads:
When I was fifteen I was afraid of men. One day, in a restaurant, I chose a dessert because of its name: “Young Girl’s Dream.” I asked the waiter what it was, and he answered: “It’s a surprise.” A few minutes later he returned with a dish featuring two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a peeled banana. He said one word: “Enjoy.” Then he laughed. I closed my eyes the same way I closed them years later when I saw my first naked man.
The text on the card reads:
I had three cats. Felix died after having been accidentally locked in the fridge. Zoe was taken from me when my younger brother was born; I hated him from that moment on. Nina was strangled by a jealous man who had, some time before, given me the following ultimatum: to sleep either with the cat or with him. I opted for the cat.
Text from Calle’s Appointment with Sigmund Freud, (2001):
I was six. I lived on a street named Rosa-Bonheur with my grandparents. A daily ritual obliged me every evening to undress completely in the elevator on my way up to the sixth floor, where I arrived without a stitch on. Then I would dash down the corridor at lightning speed, and as soon as I reached the apartment, I would jump into bed. Twenty years later I found myself repeating the same ceremony every night in public, on the stage of one of the strip joints that line the boulevard in Pigalle, wearing a blonde wig in case my grandparents should happen to pass by.