Sophie Calle The Hotel, Room 47 1981

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Artwork details

Artist
Sophie Calle born 1953
Title
The Hotel, Room 47
L'Hôtel, Chambre 47
Date 1981
Medium 2 works on paper, photographs and ink
Dimensions Displayed: 2140 x 1420 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999
Reference
P78300
Not on display

Summary

This is a two-part framed work comprising photographs and text. In the upper part, the title Room 47 is printed below a colour photograph of elegantly carved wooden twin head-boards behind a bed covered in rich brown satin. Below it, three columns of italic text are diary entries describing findings in the hotel room between Sunday 22 February 1981 and Tuesday 24. In the lower frame a grid of nine black and white photographs show things listed in the text above. This work is part of a project titled The Hotel, which the artist has defined:

On Monday, February 16, 1981, I was hired as a temporary chambermaid for three weeks in a Venetian hotel. I was assigned twelve bedrooms on the fourth floor. In the course of my cleaning duties, I examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed through details lives which remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6, the job came to an end. (Quoted in Calle, pp.140-1.)

Each of the twelve rooms gave rise to a diptych of similar structure following the occupancy of one or more guests during the period of the artist’s employment at the hotel. Some rooms feature more than once as a second set of guests occupied them, giving rise to a total of twenty-one diptychs in the series. Calle’s descriptions of the hotel rooms and their contents combine factual documentation along with her personal response to the people whose lives she glimpsed by examining their belongings. Each text begins with the chambermaid/artist’s first entry into the room and a notation of which bed or beds have been slept in, with a description of the nightwear the guests have left. A list of objects usually follows, as the artist transcribes her activities in the room. Calle is unashamedly voyeuristic, reading diaries, letters, postcards and notes written or kept by the unknown guests, rummaging in suitcases, and looking into wardrobes and drawers. She sprays herself with their perfume and cologne, makes herself up using the contents of a vanity case, eats food left behind and salvages a pair of women’s shoes left in the bin. Outside the room, she listens at doors, recording the occupants’ conversations or any other sounds she may overhear, and even peers into a room when the floor-waiter opens the door to catch a glimpse of the unknown guests.

The absent occupants described in Room 47 are a family of four – two parents and two children – as revealed by their four pairs of slippers. Calle does not go through their suitcase, commenting: ‘I am already bored’. From their passports she discovers that the parents are a married couple from Geneva and she copies out four postcards one of them has written. Words on one of these hint at problems within the family.

Calle began her artistic projects in 1979 on returning to Paris after seven years’ travel abroad. Disorientated, she felt like a stranger in her own city, not knowing how to occupy her time. She started to follow random passers-by and spend her days as they did. Eventually she picked up the camera she had been experimenting with during her time abroad and photographed the strangers, writing diaristic notes of their movements. From this she has developed a particular way of working, collecting information about people who are absent and investigating her subjects like a detective. The Hotel follows directly from a project the artist undertook the previous year entitled Suite Venetienne 1980, which evolved from a chance encounter with a man she had been following in Paris. He told her he was going to Venice, so she followed him there in disguise, documenting her observations. After a year of planning and waiting, she returned to Venice in 1981 as a chambermaid.

The Hotel diptychs were produced in an edition of four in English and four in French. Tate’s copy of Room 47 (22 February) is the first in the English edition. Another version of Room 47 exists for the period 2-6 March.

Further reading:
Sophie Calle: M’as Tu Vue, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 2003, reproduced pp.163-4 in colour
Sophie Calle, Double Game, London 1999, pp.140-83, reproduced pp.158-9 in colour
Hotel Hotel, exhibition catalogue, Landesgalerie am Oberösterreichischen Landesmuseum, Linz 2003

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2005

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