At the end of January in 1981, on the streets of Paris, I followed a man whom I lost sight of a few minutes later in the crowd. That very evening, quite by chance, he was introduced to me at an opening. During the course of our conversation, he told me he was planning an imminent trip to Venice. I decided to follow him.
French conceptual artist, Sophie Calle, explores interactions and encounters, chronicling these enquiries through text and photographs. Her project Suite Vénitienne/Please Follow Me recounts how she met a man, Henri B, at a party in Paris, covertly followed him to Venice and then trailed him in the manner of a private detective.
Venice is the perfect labyrinthine landscape to follow or be followed. Calle arrived in Venice during the carnival, as masked revellers drifted through the narrow streets. She located Henri B by telephoning a hundred hotels. In disguise, she embarked on her project, piecing together information about his habits. She used these fragments of intelligence to speculate upon the purpose and meaning of his movements and documented the whole project in a series of photographs, accompanied by a written account of her exploits and maps tracing the routes they took. The rule of the game (which she herself creates and, ultimately, breaks) was that ‘nothing was to happen, not one event that might establish any contact or relationship between them.’
In the city, proximity and remoteness coexist in the same shared space – amid masses of people we ignore each other as a common courtesy, in order to create the illusion of privacy within a crowd. Calle explores this relationship in Suite Vénitienne by remaining at a distance from Henri B, yet intruding into his privacy in intimate ways. She occupies the spaces he has recently vacated – recreating, with her own camera, photos she has just witnessed him taking; booking the same room in a hotel he’s just left, so she might sleep in the same bed.
If she wasn’t a celebrated artist, it could be an episode of Criminal Minds. Suite Vénitienne hangs on the same structure as a work of detective fiction – its driving force is enquiry and investigation, but there’s an absence of motive and absolutely no crime at the centre of the plot.
As cerebral and conceptual as Calle’s projects may be, they’re also incredibly exciting. They speak to the part of you that would love to be as mad and brave as to follow someone on an adventure across Europe because why? Because it’s glamorous and strange and filmic is why.
Suite Vénitienne is available from Wordery, and features all Calle’s beautiful photographs and observations of her time following Henri B through Venice.