Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.
Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself as a project created by the artist as a response to a breakup letter. It would appear the language of the letter at the possibility for some ambiguity in as much as there was room for varying interpretations of what the writer wanted to say, of his self and to his almost ex-partner. Calle offered a letter to various women and asked for their consideration through their skills of interpretation, be that of linguist, contemporary dancer, actor or singer, in making sense or senses of this letter, “if it was definitely a goodbye letter or if there was a beginning” (Calle, 2014, (0’33”), Interview – via YouTube).
Sophy Rickett’s body of work, produced during her Artist Associateship at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Objects in the Field is a work that came about during a time when Rickett was considering ageing, the advancement of obsolescence and de-accessioning, (Rickett, 2013, interview with Sharon Boothroyd for Photoparley). Objects in the Field was a work made between Rickett and Dr Willstrop; a collaboration or non-collaboration, as the complex mix of “lexicons and sub-codes” (Barthes, 1967, Rhetoric of the Image) came to be as Art and Science collided, blended, repelled, mixed and reasserted themselves.
The printing of Dr Willstrop’s negatives created with his three mirror telescope (3MT) during the first two years of its usage, was only part of Rickett’s project. She sought not only to print but to provide some context to these prints produced from handmade negatives, exposed using the 3MT, designed by Dr Willstrop.
It’s simple to see that Calle, a long established artist, might take the language of the breakup letter, (actually sent by email) and consider it for art. Psychologists speak of the lenses that any of us might see something through; they mean our bias’ and seem to suppose, that if we’ve sought therapy we are still inadequate to the truth. Calle’s collecting the professional lens of each woman she asked to participate and analyse this former lover’s use of language into a project demonstrates a collective view of a rather insincere email.
The Guardian describes Sophie Calle as the, “Marcel Duchamp of emotional dirty laundry” (Chrisafis for the Guardian, 16th June 2007 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art), though this isn’t a comparison that particularly works for me. Whilst Calle finds humour in the making of her art I’m not convinced that she finds her humour in quite the same form as Duchamp. My sense is that she has made fun here of attitudes towards female responses to breakup. The email that started the project, whilst absolutely necessary to the project, has been so fully pulled apart as to have not merely analysed but satirised and then diminished the text as of less relevance than the project itself. Of course the text was somewhat lacking honesty. The project itself looks at the likely intention of the writer of the email. There may be humour in what seems like a very exaggerated response to analysis of language and yet why would anyone seek to breakup and need to use such language if there wasn’t a view of women as likely to descend into hysteria – because the email hinged on some premise that the breakup by email was hurting the writer more than the woman who was to receive the text. But to compare this particular example of Calle’s work to a brief view of Duchamp is to wonder if they are not opposites.
Rickett’s use of language to work with the images of Dr Willstrop’s, brought to large-scale prints by Rickett, gives added information to the prints and what they might mean to us as the digital age allows us to reflect upon our time-limited place within the ongoing history of the world. What else might it be that we think of when we view the night sky? The relay between image and text is initially gentle as I see it when I read the text as available, https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ yet the difficulties of a different viewpoint are clear when Rickett states, “we have the photographic process in common, but some of the language we use to think about our work is not shared” (The Photographers’ Gallery – Blog available here).
I find it very strange to have to look at the possibility of multiple truths. And these two projects look very carefully at the possibility and also the impossibility of multiple truths. It’s uncomfortable sometimes to see the lies people tell or even the lies they tell themselves. It can be seen in projects such as Calle’s and Rickett’s that it’s possible that some people’s perspectives are quite fixed. But there is a beauty in looking at the opportunities provided an artwork with text and image are juxtaposed. As we move back and forth between the image and the text we can be invited to look for all that is possible to see, to bounce or relay that we are offered a real incentive to properly look.
Barthes, R, (1967), Rhetoric of the Image available online via [http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Rhetoric-of-the-image-ex.pdf Last accessed 28/05/17]
Calle, S, Interview with the Artist – by Museo Marco [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CDQy1rWGOw – Last accessed – 28/05/17]
Chrisafis, A, for the Guardian, (16th June 2007), [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art – Last accessed – 28/05/17]
Rickett, S, (19th March 2014), via The Photographers’ Gallery – Blog [https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ – Last accessed – 28/05/17]