In Paul Auster’s Leviathan there’s a character called Maria. She’s a French artist who does experiments on herself.
These include reserving different colour foods for different days of the week.
Declaring certain days are dedicated to certain letter.
Choosing a different person each morning in the cafe she would frequent to follow for the entire day.
Getting a job as a chamber maid for three weeks in Venice to make detailed notes about the occupants.
Half of these are made up the other half were inspired by activities that Sophie Calle had told Paul Auster about during a meeting they had several years prior. In the book he credited her for inspiration.
Always the game player Sophie Calle publishes her own book in response in which she took upon herself to complete her life as Maria – and filled in the gaps. Doing the colour coded meals and the alphabet days and publishing the work she had already created in Paris in the 80s where she had followed and spied on people around the city.
She must have found in that directed fiction something potent because she then wrote to Auster again and asked him to “invent a fictive character which I would attempt to remember. I was in in effect inviting Paul Auster to do what he wanted with me for a period of up to a year.”
Auster objected that he did not want to take responsibility for what might happen when I acted out the script he had created for me. He preferred to send me, “Personal Instructions for SC on how to improve life in New York City (because she asked)”
Sophie Calle is obviously up for a game. And she doesn’t hide her disappointment that he request is quite bland.
He asks her to smile and people, give cigarette and sandwiches away and start up conversations with people who smile back…
There’s something in that frustrated scathing paragraph at the anoydyne mission that is interesting.
And in the whole idea of liberating yourself from yourself because you are being led on a fiction. You are not Sophie you are Maria. You are not conscientious you are slapdash. You are not considerate. You are selfish.
You are on drugs at midnight in a rave.
But its 3pm and you are cold sober and sitting in your office in South London.
Either way, you would never have brought yourself here.
Vito Acconci whose 1969 Following Piece marked one of the earliest examples of performance art that used the artist’s body as the work – scribbled the following notes for his work
• I need a scheme (follow the scheme, follow a person)
• I add myself to another person (I give up control/I don’t have to control myself)
• Subjective relationship; subjunctive relationship
• A way to get around. (A way to get myself out of the house.) Get into the middle of things.
• Out of space. Out of time. (My time and space are taken up, out of myself, into a larger system).
I am toying with writing some bespoke instructions for my closest friends – to ask them to give up an afternoon to my direction. It nice with your own friends because you can write through their personality you can tempt them into and out of places. Get them to become other than them.