Poetry News

The Intricacies of Following: Sophie Calle's Suite Vénitienne

By Harriet Staff


Poet, artist, and editor Emmalea Russo reviews Sophie Calle's Suite Vénitienne (Siglio Press 2015) for Art Critical, and in so doing, reflects on the act of following: its tangential desires, preoccupations, and projections.

Sophie Calle makes portraits of herself and strangers through investigative methods including surveillance, interviews, photography, and text. In Suite Vénitienne (Siglio Press, 2015) Calle follows an acquaintance, Henri B., through Venice for two weeks. Calle’s route includes systematic trailing and sporadic tracking of strangers with whom Henri B. might have some connection. Suite Vénitienne, reissued from Siglio in the form of a die-cut, hardcover artist’s book, is handsomely bound and readable. The book contains four color and 56 black-and-white illustrations and photographs accompanying plain and descriptive narratives of Henri B.’s, and therefore Calle’s, maneuverings.

Later, the reader becomes the follower, yet:

Calle becomes the subject. I became interested in her decisions and modes of framing Henri B. Immersed in her detailed and straightforward descriptions of her subject, I couldn’t help but wonder about the intricacies of her positioning. Where was she in relation to Henri B.? Calle tells us that she is in disguise — wearing a blonde wig. She carries a camera. In the charged moments when Calle reveals her proximity to Henri B., the act of following becomes a performance and the quality of the relationship between follower and followed reveals itself to be one of a high tension:

8:45pm Their legs appear on the top steps. I crouch into my hiding place. They go, turning to their left. I wait a few seconds. At the very moment I leave the alley to follow them, they turn around. She was the first to turn back. She scares me more than he does.

If the site of following is the site of performance, then Suite Vénitienne might be a document of the act, which happened under clandestine circumstances in Venice in 1980. However, this considerately designed book is a work in itself. It is a re-enlivened iteration of Calle’s two week carrying-out. Here, the performance and narrative notations are inseparable. Time stamps, detailed maps, and street photographs help situate the portrait. Calle is practical but fluid in her narrative and physical plays:

I always see the same faces, never his. I’ve come to find some consolation in knowing he’s not where I am looking for him. I know where Henri B. is not.

For a few moments, I take a different tack and absentmindedly follow a flower delivery boy — as if he might lead me to him.

At top: From Suite Vénitienne by Sophie Calle, published by Siglio, 2015. Images and text copyrighted and provided courtesy of the artist.