Ever since that day, I have forgotten the faces of my wife and kids... Everything has been erased.”
This little part of the real-life stories of blind people who lost their sight in various incidents -- mostly through violence -- seems to reveal the essence of the work “La Dernière Image” (The Last Image) by Sophie Calle, a French photographer and installation and conceptual artist, currently on view in İstanbul as part of the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture program.
The year-long artist in residence program “İstanbul’da Yaşıyor ve Çalışıyor” (Lives and Works in İstanbul), overseen by the visual arts directorate of the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, has hosted six contemporary artists from Europe and given them the opportunity to create unique works of art for İstanbul, one of which is Calle’s “The Last Image.”
In addition to Calle, the agency has so far worked with Remo Salvadori (Italy), Victor Burgin (England), Peter Kogler (Austria), Danae Stratou (Greece) and Antoni Muntadas (Spain-US), who were invited to İstanbul to create pieces for İstanbul along with artists taking part in the workshops they held. Within this context, works of art produced by 48 artists from Turkey who took part in the workshops as well as those by Calle are on display at the Sanat Limanı art space in Tophane until Oct. 31.
Living with the last image
“I once read that the first settlement in İstanbul was called ‘the city of the blind’,” says Calle about the inspiration for her work, referring to Kadıköy, whose ancient name was Chalcedon, which, according to legend, stood for “the land of the blind.”
“I’d already worked on a project with blind people, so all these things together gave me the idea. The first idea was to visit İstanbul through the eyes of blind people. I asked blind men to show me the city, but then it didn’t work because of the language. We couldn’t communicate directly in Turkish. So the poetry that the person told me was lost in translation. This was not a sociological work about blind people so I changed my idea, but I stayed with the idea about the blind. I don’t know how the idea came, it just came,” she recalls during an interview with Today’s Zaman.
Calle worked intensely for three weeks, producing the piece where she combined the concept of “blindness” with the concept of “finality,” which consisted of photographs and texts based on the personal stories of blind people. The Altı Nokta (Six Dots) Foundation for the Blind and Swiss musician Stephan Eicher also worked with Calle in her project. “The last image lives in their mind,” says Calle. “They understood my question -- they all answered it immediately because when people lose their sight in a violent way, they live with the last image. It’s an obsessive image, whereas in the case of people who lose their sight gradually it’s not that obvious.”
While five of the project’s works have been completed, there are eight more stories waiting to be put on display. “It’s an issue of budget and time,” explains Calle. “The agency has a certain budget. So, as for the other stories, I just showed the portraits and the answers to show that the project was bigger than just five works. It is actually finished, I have the photographs and I have the interviews, but it needs to be developed and it depends on the occasion and the invitation in İstanbul.”
Calle also held a workshop in İstanbul with Volkan Aslan, Dilek Winchester, Ani Setyan, Gözde İlkin, İz Öztat and Seda Hepsev. Noting that she had some problems with the contract she had to sign with the agency related to artists’ rights, the French artist notes that the problem later became the subject of the workshop.
Yet, she emphasizes that the artists who participated in the workshop worked quite independently. “I didn’t really work with them actually,” she says. “We discussed the project, but in the end they did the project alone, they produced it alone, they designed it alone; it’s their project, it’s not mine. I met them, but I didn’t really work with them. It was nice to meet them, I liked them, but I can’t say anything about working together because we didn’t produce something together. I did my project, and they did their project, and we exchanged ideas. But they didn’t take part in my project, and I didn’t take part in their project.”
Finally, Calle seems quite content about her time working in İstanbul. “It was a pleasure to work in İstanbul,” she says. “What was also a pleasure was to have a new idea because new ideas are a gift. It was a gift to me as well because it gives the possibility to do something new, something small but something new. So, in this sense I’m thankful.”
Calle has some new projects in mind to realize in İstanbul, but she’s rather cautious about discussing what they are. “Maybe I can come in November to start something about İstanbul in İstanbul. But it’s only a possibility because it’s an idea and sometimes ideas don’t transform on the wall. It may seem to be a good idea, but once you try it, it just evaporates. I’ve had many ideas in my life that evaporated because they didn’t meet the reality.”