Rachel, Monique . . .

Sophie Calle presented two works at the 2007 Venice Biennale: a video of her mother, Monique Sindler, on her deathbed, and “Take Care of Yourself,” a series of artworks in which 107 female professionals (from actors to judges to grammarians) analyzed a patronizing breakup e-mail from Calle’s ex-boyfriend. Calle dedicated the second project’s catalogue to Monique, “who plays the role of the mother in this book, a role she recently left behind.” That same keen awareness of roles, of play, of a working relationship between the artist and her mother, ensures that Rachel, Monique . . . (2012), a recent iteration of Calle’s ongoing tribute to her, is tender and witty rather than maudlin. The image that best captures the work’s mood (one not included in the book) is a kind of jaunty nature morte taken last year at Calle’s installation in a Manhattan church. Against fleur-de-lis wallpaper, butterflies spell out the mother’s last word, “souci” (she was saying, “Don’t worry,” though souci also means “marigold”). As ever in Calle’s work, acts of (possibly inappropriate) appropriation are delightfully polyvalent; extracts from Monique’s diaries allow her to turn the tables, exposing her daughter. Referring to “Sophie’s selfish arrogance,” she writes: “My only consolation is she is so morbid that she will come visit me in my grave more often than on Rue Boulard.” You get the feeling they both have a morbid streak, but both also know how to step back and repurpose such feelings. The mother’s epitaph, “I’m already bored,” suggests she’d have appreciated the odd, ironic remembrances—most notably, a taxidermied giraffe named Monique—that Calle has collected here.

Detail of Sophie Calle’s 2014 installation Rachel, Monique at New York’s Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest. © Sophie Calle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Guillaume Zicarelli