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Rachel Middleman

Sophie Calle: Construction of Intimacy and Identity in Suite Vénitienne and L’hôtel

SOPHIE CALLE Suite Vénitienne, 1980 Detail 1 presentation text, 55 black and white photographs, 23 texts and 3 maps dimensions variable Edition 3/3 in English

      Through a close reading of French artist Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne (1980) and L’hôtel (1981), my thesis will examine how she uses combinations of photography and text to question the way in which the self is constructed through intimate relationships with others, particularly playing with the idea that women’s identities are constituted through men. While most of the discussion around Calle’s work has recognized her methods of transforming reality into fiction and vice versa, I want to show that this serves the more significant issue of human relationships.

SOPHIE CALLE Hotel Room 28, 1983 Black and white and color photograph with text 49 x 56 inches, each panel Edition of eight
Courtesy Donald Young Gallery, Chicago

          In Suite Vénitienne, Calle secretly follows a man through Venice while taking notes and photographing him;  in L’hôtel, Calle disguises herself as a maid and examines strangers’ lives through their belongings left in hotel rooms during their absence. As these two works unfold, the viewers’ expectations about the work as representing anything “real” are overturned, and the viewer becomes more interested in Sophie Calle than in any secrets she might reveal about the others.

            Calle begins these performances by setting up rules for her game of detective, most obvious of which is, —try not to be seen. She is never able to follow through with this one-sided relationship, however, and her rules are made to be broken. Her voyeuristic activity forces a kind of one-sided intimacy with her subjects (especially men) through the visual, which always has the possibility of reversal and, in the end, results in the construction of “Sophie.”  She writes about how her project of observing others effects her emotions and controls her actions, in other words, how she becomes dependent on her subjects. The possibility that she will be caught or confronted is the possibility of establishing a real relationship, while at the same time she reminds us cleverly that it is just a game.


          Rachel Middleman received a BA in philosophy from the University of California Santa Cruz. At SAIC, she has served as a teaching assistant and will begin a Ph.D. program in the fall in order to pursue her dream of becoming a professor of Art History.


Thesis Advisor: Margaret Olin, Professor, Chair; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: Maud Lavin, Associate Professor; Visual and Critical Studies; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Second Reader: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism



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