Sophie Calle, Les Aveugles

For this project, Calle asked a number of people who had been born blind what their ‘image of beauty’ was:

The concept is quite simple and harks back to Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, where a portrait of the subject is displayed along with a text that records what the subjects said they found ‘beautiful’, and a photograph of it; from a review of the work on Drome online contemporary arts magazine: “the images which she collects are romantically cruel, able to highlight the poetic paradox of the composition“.

Green is beautiful, because every time I like something I’m told it’s green. Grass is green, trees, leaves, nature too… I like to dress in green.”

Which begs the question, how does the person really know…

La plus belle chose que j’ai vue c’est la mer, la mer à perte de vue.”

This pre-empts a project that Calle did with people who had never seen the sea before, See the Sea.

Hair is magnificent. Especially African hair. I curl up in women’s long hair. I pretend I’m a cat and meow.”

Performative interaction with the desired object, which here becomes erotic, fetishistic.

In the Rodin Museum, there is a naked woman with very erotic breasts and a terrific ass. She is sweet, she is beautiful.”

The erotic, the tactile, knowing something by its contours, seeing through touching.

Probably the most poignant portrait is this one, which has no accompanying framed image of beauty, and the reason why is stark. I would actually have expected more responses like this, but most of the people have used other senses, particularly that of touch, to build up an internal ‘image’ of their object of desire.

“Beauty – I’ve buried beauty. I don’t need beauty. I don’t need images in my brain. Since I cannot appreciate beauty, I have always run away from it.”

And hence there is no framed photo accompanying this portrait.

From the NY Met Museum website: “Cleverly undercutting objective notions of truth and beauty, Calle instead locates the meaning of art within the infinite, irreducible responses of the beholder.” As in the work of Kosuth, there is no one truth about the object, here an object of desire, only approximations. The description and the photograph approach the object, but never quite contain it (perceive it); it is a ‘blind spot’. The concept is an interesting one, but it doesn’t really deal with the issue of blindness, it is more a critique of our own notions of seeing and beauty, the breach between perceptions and reality (Arbus?).

From a review in the LA Times: “Although producing “The Blind” taught her as much as any “experience or situation you are in,” Calle said she didn’t set out to learn about being blind.

“It was not part of the project,” she said. “It was not a sociological project.” Only after completing the work did she think about why she wanted to photograph blind people to begin with, she added. Perhaps working with the blind, she said, was a way to “see without being seen again, but without having to hide myself.””

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