Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How to Transform Scorned Love into Revenge Art

A former student, Crystal, sent me this article, which is part of a series on notable art at the Venice Biennale. Sophie Calle was callously dumped via an email and turned the otherwise traumatic experience into a work of art, that heckles and mocks the dumper. What sweet revenge!

Our guy -- the artist has kindly identified him only as "X" -- dumped Calle by writing her an arrogant, self-absorbed, self-pitying missive. He used the old line that he was leaving Calle for her own good. He'd found himself eyeing other women again and didn't want to have to break his promise not to cheat on her. All of which, he implied, hurt him more than it hurt her.
Here is how she transformed the otherwise miserable scenario into cathartic laughter:

The piece is titled "Take Care of Yourself," after the writer's closing words, and Calle and her comrades have certainly taken care of him.

Calle sent a printout to a copy editor, who tore apart the jilter's diction and grammar. The text, marked up by the editor in black pen and four highlighter colors, is blown up to fill a giant patch of wall in the pavilion, alongside Calle's photographic portrait of the grammarian.

Also on the wall of the pavilion are the face and comments of a certain Mme. Aliette Eicher, comtesse de Toggenburg, an etiquette consultant who teaches "savoir-vivre." She pointed out, without sparing any bile, all the ways in which Monsieur X broke the basic code of love that any true "man of the world" would follow. (The countess encloses an example of the crisp note a real gentleman might send, handwritten with a fountain pen on rag paper bearing a coat of arms: "My Dearest Sophie, What you offer is a rare and precious thing. I find myself, obliged, however, to give up your company. Please trust that I do so with deepest regret.")

And there are the comments of a forensic psychiatrist, who diagnoses the words as revealing "a true, twisted manipulator, psychologically dangerous and/or a great writer. To be avoided. Categorically." (The originals are mostly in French, but there were translations available in the pavilion in English and Italian.)

Calle gets female experts to translate the note into Latin, Braille, Morse code, bar code and shorthand, all presented huge on the pavilion wall. A female journalist writes it up as the briefest wire story; a puzzle writer turns it into a crossword; a grade-school teacher reworks it as a fairy tale with a sad ending; a pair of Talmudic scholars put it through the most rigorous scriptural analysis.

In a room of ever-changing videos, Calle has the e-mail read and commented on by the great French actress Jeanne Moreau, by British stars Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave, by pop singers Peaches and Feist. It gets "interpreted" by a clown and a puppeteer. It's sung out by an opera diva and danced to as a tango, a ballet and tough punk rock.

In one moment of cross-species solidarity, a parrot -- female, one assumes -- shreds a copy of the thing with her beak. (In a nicely democratic, anti-market move, Calle has made many of these videos, and lots of other details from the project, available in a deluxe new book. It costs almost $100, but it includes several DVDs that, in more limited editions, would cost collectors hundreds of times that much.)

My favorite video shows a competitive markswoman whose response to the e-mail was to shoot it up. She's shown on a firing range, kitted up with the latest high-tech clothes and a gleaming rifle custom-machined just for her hands. The gun barrel barely twitches as she blows the note away. This is jilted woman as remorseless killing machine. Lucky for X that Calle is only an artist.

I love the grammarian and etiquette dame pointing out how poorly constructed and unmannered the email was.

So, this art exhibit got me thinking about stories of scorned love. I have been lucky in that I have never been dumped over email. In fact, I have never dated someone who actually had the guts to dump me; instead, they cheated on me or provoked me to dump them. But, I know there are some stories out there. So tell me, what's your horror story of love scorned? And better yet, any glorious revenge stories?