Thursday, July 13, 2006

When teaching writing becomes not just enjoyable, but actually a privilege, is when you learn as much from your students as you're teaching them. (You mean you get paid for that? Yep, life's good!) My best tutorials - on both sides - are those when we both come away bursting with scribbled names, notes and books to look up. So this entry comes with thanks to Brigitte who introduced me to the work of the French artist, Sophie Calle; Paul Auster fans might recognise her as the model for Maria, in his novel, Leviathan. Sophie Calle is the ultimate artist at transforming her life, and those of strangers and friends, into art.

Reading about her, she appears to be an obsessive who uses ritual to anchor her in life. The photograph above is one of a series of exhibits of birthday presents that were given to her every year - she stopped when she was forty. She decided to keep the presents she was given as a record of affection rather than to use them.

Perhaps her most controversial work was The Address Book where she found a stranger's address book and proceeded to contact names in it to build up a picture of the man; this was then published in a French magazine. Not surprisingly the man tried to sue for defamation of privacy, and eventually got hold of a nude photograph of Sophie which he demanded the newspaper publish!

My favourite though is The Shadow, where she asked her mother to hire a private detective to follow her, Sophie, one day. The text on the day is electric - as it progresses, Sophie sounds as if she's almost falling in love with her shadow, wondering what he'll think of her doing this, or that, and how he'll react to her. TO complicate things further, she asks a friend to shadow the shadow and provide a record of who he is. The difference between her account of the day, and the eventual technical report of the private detective is beautiful in itself. The idea came after Sophie came back to live in Paris after an absence and, feeling an outsider, started to follow strangers.

I've been feeling almost electrically inspired reading about this woman and although there's no copying her, my writing prompt for today comes from her... I'm going to London today to meet my friend Shaun for lunch and I'm going to take an earlier train than I would normally and meander round after strangers for an hour. And my 'living' prompt for today is ... not to get arrested!

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