When work gets particularly alienating, as it’s bound to do when you work for an investment banking firm in the middle of a massive economic meltdown, it’s good to get away. Far away. Like, across the river. I usually go to the Tate with something in mind, like visiting the Joseph Beuys’ room, which always comforts. The erotic power his Felt Suit has over me is a mystery– and I’d like to keep it that way. And, when you’ve been scanning expense reports until your eyes water, what better antidote than to gaze at the fine mess of his Fat Battery? It’s the poetry of survival, and even if my current rat race existence seems far removed from any sort of myth making, it still pushes all my buttons.
Today I stumbled upon Sophie Calle’s Hotel Room series. Calle’s sexual, voyeuristic work predates Tracy Emin’s and far surpasses it in depth, humor and poetry. In her Hotel Room series from the 80s, she worked as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel where she photographed people’s belongings as she cleaned the rooms. She then took notes on her findings and they become vingettes of voyueristic transgression, of human frailty and the mystery of private lives. She records the used towels, the slippers, the half-finished crosswords, wigs, tablets, carnival masks, and in recording she becomes almost a fictional character, an embittered, compassionate trickster figure.
When I was younger, I worked as a maid, cleaning the houses of the wealthy in San Francisco’s Nob Hill and Pacific Heights, and looking at Calle’s work brought back visceral memories of being an intimate stranger. Calle puts on the perfume she finds in women’s luggage and in one case, steals a pair of shoes that fit her. Reading that, I had goosebumps. I wished I’d written it.