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Sophie’s Room


On a beautiful October weekend – ripe with the scent of the fall vegetation now enveloping the local greenmarkets and some end-of-summer nostalgia for warmer, sunnier days, I followed the directions in a press announcement to a small hotel on the upper east side. The hotel, located on a tree-lined street off Madison Avenue, was smart and orderly and seemed very European – like an international transplant of exacting good taste. The small lobby was bustling. I felt as though I was setting out on adventure with great expectations. When I requested directions to Sophie’s Room, the staff immediately responded as though they too felt special by association with this event.

01 Room
Sophie’s Room. All photos this post by Cate Fallon

Sophie’s Room, open to visitors around the clock for one weekend, was on the third floor. The room itself reflected the care and attention to detail promised in the hotel literature and seemed a welcome environment for the objects placed with equal care and attention around the room by the artist Sophie Calle.

04 cake
Sophie’s cake.

As part of  Crossing the Line, the annual fall festival of contemporary arts produced by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Sophie Calle, one of France’s leading contemporary artists, created a site- specific installation incorporating an array of personal objects placed as multiple mini-stages around the room.

02 story
Sophie Calle’s room, in the kitchen. Note card with story on it

With numbered cards to follow, one could journey about the room experiencing the nostalgia laden dioramas found on the table, in the bookcase, across the mantle, draped over the bed, tucked in the kitchen or hanging in the bathroom. In the center of the room the stuffed cat and its sweet-sad story seemed to anchor the couch while letters, books and clothing were strewn about offering other stories of crushed dreams and fanciful tales.

06 cat
Sophie’s cat

Even the room-safe, propped open for the day, revealed that she, Sophie, had recently acquired a plot in the Bolinas Cemetery in Bolinas, California and that her dilemma of after-life transportation to the final resting site as by UPS or by FedEx had been resolved.

11 safe
The safe, with her funeral preparations

While autobiographical in nature, the viewer is encouraged to become the director or creator of the narrative hinted at in the various corners. The suite seemed filled with life lived. The wry acerbic wit of the artist evident in the various scenes, which seemed to weave time and object in a dense quilt of memories.

07 letter
Typewriter in the living room

Some visitors, while welcome, seemed almost uncomfortable. As they bumped past each other in their commitment to read and review everything set out for consumption, their own lives seeming not equal to the richness of what they were given the chance to observe. Some seemed almost afraid to laugh at some of the stagings, and then leaving almost as one might leave a funeral parlor or  a crime scene, not knowing what to say. And yet, I found the room welcoming, filled with stories like an open journal book of a most refreshing adventurous life.

09 bedroom
Sophie’s bedroom

Sophie’s Room, co-presented with The Lowell Hotel, was a wonderful afternoon’s reading and a fitting addition to Fiction & Non-Fiction, one of “Crossing the Line 2011’s” three curatorial program perspectives. FIAF, in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, opened its fifth edition of “Crossing the Line” in mid-September with performances, exhibitions, an audio-guide walk and events stretching the length of Museum Mile.The festival ran for a month closing on October 16.