Artwork Detail

Ecrivain public / Public letter writer, Rafaèle Decarpigny, from the series Prenez soin de vous (Take Care of Yourself)
French, b. 1953
Color photograph and text
Photograph, 44 1/2 x 55 1/16 x 1 1/2 "
University purchase, Parsons Fund, and with funds from Helen Kornblum, 2007
WU 2007.0002
Sophie Calle began making conceptual photo-based work in the early 1980s. Her complex and multifaceted practice often involves staging aspects of her own life as the subject of her artworks. "Ecrivain public / Public letter writer, Rafaèle Decarpigny," a combination of a photograph and a handwritten letter, is one of 107 video and photographic portraits that make up Calle’s project "Prenez soin de vous." The project takes its title from the closing line of an e-mail sent from her ex-lover breaking off their relationship. Calle asked 107 women to respond to the e-mail according to their line of work—criminologist, anthropologist, intelligence officer, clown, actress, and, in this case, public letter writer. In "Ecrivain public," Rafaèle Decarpigny responds as if she had been commissioned to professionally write a public reply. The text functions as a kind of masquerade—it reveals only to hold back—for it is not Calle’s own response that we receive, nor what Decarpigny’s response would be had the break-up happened to her. The photograph also follows this dynamic, showing Decarpigny in the intimate moment of reading the letter in a public stairwell, observed by a passing woman in a burqa—another thematic instance of the play between concealing and revealing. A surveillance camera along the top edge of the photograph similarly echoes the linguistic doubling of the letter by reversing the viewer’s position as a voyeur of this scene. [Exhibition brochure text, 2010]