Sophie Calle: Exquisite Pain (Douleur Exquise)
Luxembourg Cultural Capital 2007
On view: July 03, 2007 - September 09, 2007
Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan's unique mise-en-scène adds
significantly to the beauty and poetic drama of the
At the end of a 92 day voyage to Japan in 1984 Calle was abandoned by her lover, who failed to show up for a planned meeting in New Delhi. Deeply distressed by the break-up Calle could only speak of the journey's unfortunate ending upon her return to France and began asking others to recount their own most painful experiences.
Through this process of storytelling and repetition, Calle's
pain was slowly alleviated. It was more than fifteen years later,
however, that she decided to transform the whole sequence of events
into an artwork.
The installation is a mix of architectural design and visual art, introspective and intimate, designed by Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan for Rotonde1.
Calle's "Exquisite Pain" is a powerful visual and texture
narrative recounting foreign travel and loss of love, suffering and
artistic catharsis. It is the diary of a journey from Paris to
Tokyo, passing by the Transsiberian Express from Moscow to
Vladivostok, and the tale of a missed rendezvous at the Imperial
Hotel room 261 in New Delhi.
"Exquisite Pain" unfolds in three parts, like an opera or a theatrical production.
The first part of the exhibition consists of 92 photographs and ephemera, recording each day of Calle's trip preceding the missed rendezvous. This diary is presented retrospectively as countdown to the artist's rejection and despair, each photograph or document stamped with a number indicating the remaining amount of "days until unhappiness."
Part two is a three dimensional reconstruction of room 261 of
the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, the site of Calle's amorous
tragedy, as interpreted by Gehry and Chan.
In the third part the exorcism, Calle's own story, is juxtaposed with narratives of pain and heartache from others. In this dynamic process of repetition and variation the original tale is transformed and the pain evaporated. Presented as 36 diptychs embroidered on light linen, the left side shows a photograph of the red telephone in the Imperial Hotel room where she received the bad news and a version of Calle's story, the right the story of someone else's "worst pain" along with a related photograph.
For the exhibition Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan created a circular
labyrinth using reflecting materials that highlights the emergence
and fading of thoughts and memories at play in Calle's work. The
scenography explores the dynamics of natural light and specific
architecture of the Rotunda.
Rotonde1 is a late 19th Century industrial building that was
dedicated to the maintenance of locomotives and coaches. It is 50
meters in diameter with inside heights ranging from 6 to 8 and 11
to 15 meters at the top of the cupola.
The perimeter walls are constructed from yellowish stone, the
inside columns are cast iron, the ceiling of the cupola is made up
of wooden boards painted grey. It is an impressively vast space
with beautiful natural light streaming in through high windows
around the whole building.
Sophie Calle is an internationally renowned French writer,
photographer, installation artist, and conceptual artist. She is
famous for her sleuth-like explorations of human relationships,
which led her, for example, to follow a stranger in the streets of
Venice and document his every move, or to find work as a hotel
chambermaid in order to photograph the belongings of the hotel's
In her different projects, Calle immerses herself in examinations of voyeurism and identity. Often playing roles or adopting guises, she recasts her own identity to reconstruct or document strangers' lives, examining the relationship between the artist and the objects of her investigations. Sophie Calle is showing at this summer's Venice Biennale in the French Pavilion.
Frank Gehry & Edwin Chan
Associate, Gehry Partners LLP
Architect, Gehry Partners LLP
Last updated: December 19, 2013