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  • Writer's pictureCristea Zhao

15. Sophie Calle, ‘Rachel, Monique’

Sophie Calle,


Friche du Palais de Tokyo Paris (France), 2010

Extremely touched by this body of works. All over the world in Venice, New York and Paris, there were several edition of ‘Rachel, Monique’, among them my fav is the one in Palais de Tokyo. It was held in the basement which was still under construction during that time, for the duration of only 8 days. Spaces like church or a white cube gallery might seem to be a more suitable setting for installing works mourning for the death of the artist. But here in this un-facilitated and raw construction site, it’s eerie that senses of decaying and thriving are in the air at the same time. It is a state of yet-to-be-done. Whether it’s going to be built up, or torn down is frozen in these short eight days, leaving a great imaginative potential for the viewers. It is an open text for reading.

I guess the agony I feel in this work is the background story for rationalising this work. Calle suggested in the interview at Paula cooper Gallery, and also in some documentations you could find in the exhibition. That this is a mother that enjoyed attentions, longed for being the subject of her daughter’s artistic practice, and at the same time, always not satisfied of her short appearance in her works. If she was not like this, she would never make works that utilising her death. However, in comparison to the craving for such attention, now what presented here is a fulfilled space for such wishes but also an absence of her life. This made me very sentimental about this exhibition.

The video Impossible to catch death shot at the deathbed is a powerful work. This was firstly shown in 2007 Venice Biennale in her ‘Take Care of Yourself’. It didn’t directly affiliate to that project but at the persuasion of the curator, she presented this work. What touched me is she mentioned she couldn’t watch this work (surprisingly like Song Dong’s forever sealed videotape of touching his father’s corpse), when she went through the post-production, it was acceptable for viewing, as during this process it was dehumanised, impersonalised. But when she finished installing, she couldn’t watch it again, she left it there for others to watch.

This sense of being unable to watch is what I was addressing in my work I don’t see, I don’t remember, I don’t mourn. I very much can relate. Beyond that, I realised the power of video in such subject matter. In another interview (, she mentioned we are so inhabited of accepting the description of death and bereavement in literature, painting and even photography, but ‘Yet, with a moving image it is different. In the case of my mother’s video, perhaps it was the fact that at the beginning she isn’t dead, but then, she is. At the beginning, if you look closely, you can see her breathing for the last time.’

This enlightens me a lot, as video holds the time-based quality of documenting the presence, not only at that very moment, but in a moving, changing fashion. Which death in itself means an interrupt of changing, the end of it, an absolute static. There’s this conflict of the natures in two mediums (if death can be seen as a medium).

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