The French Pavilion: Well My Baby, He Sent Me a Letter

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I usually give this blog a rest on weekends, but since I’m in Venice I blogged right on through, fully aware that the majority of readers don’t check back til Monday. Now that you’re here, if you care to you can backtrack to find the posts on the U.S. and British pavilions, among other things. Now on to France.

One of my best experiences at the Biennale this year came thanks to Sophie Calle. Her multi-room installation at the French pavilion, “Take Care of Yourself”, is an insanely energetic takedown of a ratty ex-boyfriend, one who walked out of her life with a pious and high minded e-mail. Or did he? Halfway through this pavilion it occurred to me that the boyfriend, and the e-mail, might be fictitious. Which makes no difference to the deliciously over the top mechanisms of the piece.

In wall texts, videos and paintings, Calle subjects the e-mail to a tidal wave of abuse and cunning deconstruction. She recruits 107 women, including a few celebrated ones like Jeanne Moreau, Laurie Anderson and Miranda Richardson, to read the letter, act it out, set it to music or cooly deconstruct it. Many of them turn up on a video wall on which they perform and deform the text more than 30 ways, including as a Bunraku puppet show, an aria, a rap song and a clown routine. On other screens a white cockatoo grabs a paper copy in one claw and eats it and a couples counselor sets the letter on a chair and analyzes it.

Calle does everything but attach that letter to the back of a chariot and drag it three times around the Colosseum. We never see him, but by the time she’s through with him he’s the most thoroughly humbled ex-boyfriend in history. She may have been dumped, but she’s not one to be victimized, and her installation is a revenger’s comedy of a high order.