Inside the weird world of the blackly funny artist Sophie Calle

Take a left at the eight-foot stuffed giraffe head, past the a taxidermied tiger and zebra.


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When a pet dies, we might have a small burial in the garden, read a poem and raise a glass to our beloved creature while we tearfully blow our noses. When French artist Sophie Calle’s cat Souris died, she enlisted 38 musicians including Jarvis Cocker, Bono and Pharrell Williams to write an album dedicated to the fluffy feline. The three-volume compilation was, in the end, not only an ode to soft paws and long whiskers, but a meditation on grief, loss and trauma.

This is one of several compelling and blackly funny projects Calle talks about in Making Art with Frances Morris (11.30am, 28 March) with the director of the Tate Modern. Morris enters the controversial artist’s Paris home with some trepidation: an eight-foot stuffed giraffe head is mounted on the wall near a taxidermied tiger and zebra, all of which embody the spirit of her deceased mother, father and cat respectively. It’s thrilling to hear 65-year-old Calle discuss filming her mother’s last breaths, footage she exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and how, when her boyfriend left her at 51 with a message that said “take care of yourself”, she, days later, asked 107 women to write their own responses to it. She says, deadpan, that after interviewing just one woman she realised the project – which became a hugely popular exhibition across the world – would be “much more interesting” than the relationship had ever been.

I could have listened to Calle talk about grief and the power of confessional art for hours longer than the programme allows for. There’s a moment in which she mentions that she used to perform abortions in the 1960s, but this mind-boggling fact is skipped over by Morris, presumably due to time constraints. What Calle needs is her own weekly Radio 4 show – which I’m sure would be far too structured for a woman who lives unfettered by family or children, “totally free”. She speaks so simply and beautifully that even her most outrageous ideas seem logical. To make sense of death, which stalks us all, why wouldn’t you buy yourself three graves, mount an eight-foot giraffe head on your wall and have Bono sing about your cat? Kudos to Calle. 

Making Art with Frances Morris
BBC Radio 4

This article appears in the 22 March 2019 issue of the New Statesman, State of emergency

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