Sophie Calle Takes it to the Grave
Sophie Calle, who is often called France’s most famous conceptual artist, and is at the very least its most consistently intrepid, has made a career out of investigating the unseemly and overlooked corners of life: death, obsession, things that have been left behind, people who have been forgotten. In her newest project—in collaboration with Creative Time—the 63-year-old artist is tackling secrets, and the matter of what to do with them. This weekend was the inauguration of Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, a 25-year-long endeavor that will, as the title suggests, serve to gather and preserve our most intimate confessions.
To do this, Calle erected a marble obelisk, not unlike a tombstone, with a letter slot. Visitors to the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn are encouraged to write down their secrets, seal them in envelopes, and drop them in the slot, where they will descend underground. Calle, like a spiritual divining rod, was on site this weekend for those who wished to confess orally. She has pledged to return to the site each time the grave is filled, to ceremonially exhume and cremate the buried secrets.
Creative Time, themselves fond of ambitious and sometimes head-scratching projects—last year’s Doomocracy, in which the artist Pedro Reyes constructed a labyrinthine haunted house inspired by political horrors, comes to mind—naturally found a fruitful collaborator in Calle. “I’ve been following Sophie my whole life,” says Nato Thompson, Creative Time’s artistic director. “She hits this special part in my heart. There’s conceptualism, and then there’s romantic conceptualism. When I first encountered that, it blew me away.”
At a celebrator dinner in the cemetery’s echoey chapel on Saturday night, Calle spoke briefly. “If I die in the next 25 years, can this be my grave?” she asked the room. “If I could manage to have one in Paris, New York, and California,” she said, referring to her corpse’s final resting place. A member of Green-Wood’s staff called out gleefully: “We can fit you in here!”
On Sunday, there was already an overflow box visible near the obelisk, so who knows what the piece will look like in 25 years; how it can sustain the magnitude, physically and otherwise, of all those secrets. But for Calle, the blurry nature of life or the future is nothing to shy away from. In her words, “We will just start again!”
SOPHIE CALLE’S HERE LIE THE SECRETS OF THE VISITORS OF GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY, PRESENTED IN COLLABORATION WITH CREATIVE TIME, IS ON VIEW AT GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY IN BROOKLYN FOR THE NEXT 25 YEARS.