Back in 1983, French artist Sophie Calle stumbled upon a lost address book on the streets of Paris. She returned it anonymously to its owner, a documentary filmmaker, but only after photocopying its contents and then obsessively contacting the individuals listed in its pages. After interviewing family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances of the mystery man, whom she referred to as Pierre D., she pieced together a detailed and highly intimate portrait of her subject. Her impressions of the interviewees’ accounts resulted in photographs and text printed in a long series of articles in the French daily Libération. Thirty years later, this controversial art project, called The Address Book, has now been published in book form by Siglio.
Calle has always made artwork that toys with the boundaries between public and private life. She has invited strangers to sleep in her bed; posed as a chambermaid in a Venice hotel then photographed the occupants’
private belongings; and, after being dumped by her boyfriend, asked some 100 women to read aloud, dance to, sing out, or otherwise interpret his “Dear Jane” e-mail. Now in her late 50s, Calle continues to surprise and shock with her morbid curiosity. Her most recent works include a minute-by-minute film of her mother dying, and a performance in which the artist blurted out the contents of her mother’s private diaries.
But Pierre D. reacted differently from Calle’s other subjects. Upon learning of the meddlesome project, he was horrified and outraged and threatened to sue. He retaliated by demanding that Libération publish a nude photograph of Calle as revenge for invading his privacy; the newspaper complied. “He was very angry,” Calle later told the Independent. “And I did feel bad about it, yes. I was disappointed. . . . I felt very guilty.” The artist agreed to his request not to publish the work until after his death.
A few years ago, Pierre D. passed away, and Calle revisited The Address Book, making a portfolio of the newspaper articles, which was exhibited last year at MoMA PS1 in New York. The new book’s publication marks the first time the entire text has been translated into English. Small, lightweight, and deep red in color, the volume, which even comes with a black elastic band, resembles a real address book.