There's a piece of work by Sophie Calle that I love, and have loved since I first heard of it. The piece is called Take Care Of Yourself and is made up of a hundred different women analysing the 'Dear John' email according to their professional interest. It was the star of the 2007 Venice Biennale, it's easy to see why. I own the book of the artwork, and I often find myself reading through it, especially when I'm feeling broken hearted. (The world can be absolutely awful, y'know?)
The reason for my thinking again of this stunning piece of work is I received a message from someone who I rarely even think of now. It wasn't a 'Dear John' and it didn't say 'Take Care of Yourself'. I won't mention names but at one point he was such a large presence in my life, he occupied so much mind-space. It frustrates me that it's always men that seem to consume me so, but there seems little I can do when I'm so very all or nothing.
The wording and content of the message is not important, it was an apology that I never expected and wasn't prepared for. It could be perceived as 'closure' but nearly ten years on I rarely thought of him and did not need that closure. He may have needed it though, and the message did not cause any extreme emotion that would make me angry for dredging up the past.
What did make me stop and think was how to reply.
It was this thought that led me to thinking about Sophie Calle and Take Care Of Yourself. Much like Calle, Emin, and Bourgeois I take care of myself through art, I exhaust my feelings until they become 1000 flowers that decay in a disused space in St Leonards.
"Love, life and death - all of that is the most mundane material for artists. It amuses me because people often say, doesn't it bother you to show your private life? I say, well if you ruled out private life, you would have to eliminate all poetry. Victor Hugo, Baudelaire and Verlaine use their emotional life as subject matter. What I'm putting on show is a dumping. All dumping letters are the same, they're unpleasant. This one is neither better or worse than all the rest. It's an aid to a break-up. I don't talk about the man, and all the better. The subject is the letter, the text... It was the words 'take care of yourself'. Those words made me click. He said 'take care of yourself', he knows how I take care of myself, he knows what my method is."
There were so many ways I could have replied to this message and I was aware that my reply would set the bar for the person I am now, and if the conversation would continue. Considering this person had not spoken or seen me in five years, he does not know me. My reply (or lack of) would dictate the person that I had become. At this point in writing I do not feel the need to try to create an artwork from this, but I'm interested in the possibilities and how art (and culture) is a mirror.
For those that have ever watched Grey's Anatomy, often Cristina and Meredith will 'dance it out', in Take Care Of Yourself, several dancers translate the 'Dear John' letter into dance.
What is also a point of investigation is that Calle received her 'Dear John' through an email (what a shitty way to dump someone, seriously), and my message was received through facebook. Technology gives us immediacy, and so many messages get sent with very little prior thought. When sending messages we are detached, it's not so personal and we can be brave in saying things that we might struggle to face-to-face. There are messages sent to the wrong person (and sometimes that is done deliberately). I'm sure many can remember the days of msn and 'sorry, that was my friend'.
This man, in his message to me, referenced emails that he had re-read, of old conversations. I DON'T EVEN HAVE THOSE EMAILS AND MY EMAIL ADDRESS WAS
PROBABLY EMBARRASSING. (xtOoCOoooOOlx@hotmail.com?) Somewhere on the internet is a record of every heartbreak, argument, and friendship I have ever had. It still exists frozen in a moment that I can't get back to, and I don't think I'd want to either. On the internet somewhere is a seventeen year old Erin that is so angry and sad. She's doing questionable things and fucking up repeatedly, but she's learning. As someone who embraced the internet, and livejournal at age fifteen there's so much out there on me, by me, about me, to do with me. A regular google of my own name (don't pretend you've never done it) allows me to check that there are no stray, really embarrassing accounts easily accessed.
This record of interactions provides a constant back-up for inspiration. There is a vault that if needed can be opened to explore ideas, theories that I once had. I can, just like Calle, Emin, and many others use my personal experience to create an artwork, to see how far I've grown and the comparisons between myself and you. With all archives, they is space from when they were created and that space has allowed for growth and a new analytical view.
I am forever grateful for art, and the space that has allowed me to grow into the person I am today. I am grateful that this person wanted to apologise for something that I don't think of, and I am so very grateful for being able to recognise all that.
And the message? You'll just have to guess what I did.