Sophie Calle

The Hotel, Room 28


Not on display

Sophie Calle born 1953
Original title
L'Hôtel, Chambre 28
2 works on paper, photographs and ink
Displayed: 2140 × 1420 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999


This is a two-part framed work comprising photographs and text. In the upper part, the title Room 28 appears below a colour photograph of painted wooden twin head-boards. The smoothly made double bed is covered with a colourfully printed renaissance-style bedspread. Richly striped wallpaper is visible behind the head-boards. Below the title three columns of italic text are diary entries describing findings in the hotel room between Monday 16 February 1981 and Thursday 19. 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, in Room 28, 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 28 are a couple who the artist imagines to be ‘some older well-off people’. She notes that only one twin bed is slept in the first night, helps herself to their Chanel No.5 perfume and photographs a row of four pairs of ladies’ shoes (size 38), a suitcase full of identical Brooks Brothers shirts and a white man’s pyjama bottom left draped over a chair, among other things. She lists incongruous travelling objects such as ‘a 7” x 9 ½” photograph of a sailing boat on the sea’ and a portrait of the Pope.

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 28 (16 February) is the second in the English edition. Room 28 has another entry in the series for the period 3-6 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.146-7 in colour
Hotel Hotel, exhibition catalogue, Landesgalerie am Oberösterreichischen Landesmuseum, Linz 2003

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2005

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