Sophie Calle’s Controversial ‘Address Book’ Will Be Published as a Book for the First Time

Sophie Calle, ‘The Address Book.’ (Photo courtesy of Siglio Press)

Sophie Calle is getting ready to publish one of her early controversial works, The Address Book, in book form in English for the first time, with art book imprint Siglio Press. The work, which will be released on Oct. 31, is a compilation of essays that Ms. Calle wrote for a column for the French newspaper Liberation, in the summer of 1983. And while it has been reproduced in very limited edition as a portfolio of lithographs by Gemini G.E.L. in 2009, this is the first time these will be made available to the general public in complete form as a trade publication.

“People haven’t really read or seen these works unless they were lucky enough to catch one of the exhibitions when it was at MoMA or P.S.1,” said Lisa Pearson of Siglio Press. “This is a different thing.”

The work is based on an address book that Ms. Calle found in the streets of Paris in the early 1980s. Rather than simply return the address book, the artist first photocopied all of its contents and then called the contacts and interrogated them about the book’s owner, a “scriptwriter” known simply as Pierre D.

“Thus, I will get to know this man through his friends and acquaintances,” she wrote in her first column for the paper. “I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him, and I will try to produce a portrait of him over an undetermined length of time that will depend on the willingness of his friends to talk about him—and on the turns taken by the events.”

And while invasions of privacy are par for the course for Ms. Calle—for her work The Hotel, she took a job as a chambermaid at a Venetian hotel and went about rifling through the suitcases and other personal effects of hotel guests and documenting them—the column based on the found address book didn’t go over so smoothly. When Pierre D. found out that Ms. Calle was calling all of his friends and publishing her finds in the newspaper, he threatened to sue her and demanded that Liberation publish nude photos of Ms. Calle in a retaliatory invasion of privacy. As a result, Ms. Calle agreed not to publish the work until after the death of Pierre D. So, as per her agreement, Ms. Calle waited. And she was already in the clear when the art edition by Gemini G.E.L. was produced in 2009. And while snippets have been published here and there, such as in a larger work Double Game, these books will offer the complete work in a different perhaps more fitting format.

“Calle’s work really lives in books,” said Ms. Pearson, “and this is no exception.”

Like all of Ms. Calle’s work, this tiny red book conflates fact and fiction. Yes, we’re pretty sure that that is Pierre D.’s arm in a still from a television show on which he appeared, because there’s a caption that identifies him. But is that worn leather club chair pictured in the book really the one that Pierre D. liked to sit in and smoke a cigar when visiting Myriam V.? Is that postcard of the Polar Bear really the image on the postcard Pierre D. sent to Jacques D. when he first moved to Norway to lead “and experimental workshop, to go beyond theory”? We’ll never know.

What’s great is just how far Ms. Calle will go to get at the heart of who Pierre D. is. She even calls Pierre D.’s brother, a psychoanalyst. “He finds the idea ‘attractive,’ ‘captivating,’ ” Ms. Calle writes, “but there is something too inquisitive about it.”

Here are some excerpts from the book to give you a hint of what you can expect:

Enzo U., an Italian friend of Pierre D.’s who agrees to meet Ms. Calle on a Monday at noon, when he’s passing through Paris:

“I know Pierre very well. I met him in the late 60’s at a science fiction festival in Trieste. He was already in love with Italy. I was fascinated by his Harry Langdon, Jacques Tati side. We became friends.” Enzo U.’s house became a base for Pierre’s annual vacations in Rome. “He represented the burlesque and the romantic for me; he was the first of the new romantics. Then his image became more cultural. He started writing film criticism and scripts. His personality developed what could be called a ‘dirty side.’

Then there are “the failures,” like Monsieur Baaron:

I tell him the story. He says, “Do you know who I am? I’m a public personality! If you had called me to talk to me or to get to know me, I would have agreed to meet with you. I started from scratch too. I know what it’s like to start out. But you’re using a roundabout method. I don’t like that…”

And tidbits of other perspectives on the same man:

Sylvie B.: Physically, he’s gorgeous. Thirtyish, white hair. A way of dressing with a certain proportion of intentional clownishness that he totally accepts.”

Paul B.: He is extremely intelligent. He is a real character. But he did not know how to ‘sell’ himself. It is as a character that he failed.”

While we feel like this should arouse curiosity in the actual man, Pierre D., this Rashomon-like collection of narratives becomes for us a truthful portrait.

Sophie Calle’s Controversial ‘Address Book’ Will Be Published as a Book for the First Time