Unlike Calle, Svenson, and Depoorter, Sierra does seek consent from his subjects, but the nature of this consent is highly questionable. These pieces draw attention to the exploitative, transactional nature of our society, pointing to the commodification of bodies and exposing the power structures that operate within our everyday lives. Conceptually and politically, the works might be seen as noble, but in actually using the bodies of vulnerable individuals, Sierra must enact the very exploitation and dehumanization he critiques. He forces us to ask if it is okay for an artist to use people. Can the end justify the means?
In 1992, Paul Auster based a character in his novel Leviathan on Sophie Calle, borrowing some of her works as well as inventing new ones. This depiction of Calle is heavily critiqued in Chris Kraus’s autofictional novel I Love Dick (1997); she claims Auster’s version of Calle is “a waif-like creature relieved of complications like ambition and career.” Ironically, this criticism—that using a real person as the subject for art strips that person of their individuality and complexities—can be levelled just as fairly at Suite Vénitienne, The Address Book, and The Hotel. Like Auster, Calle presents her subjects as simplified versions of themselves, and treats them like fictional characters in a narrative she remains in control of.
It is, I think, this relieving of complications that is most disturbing and, in the end, most painful. Should we find ourselves the subject of an artist’s gaze, most of us would like them to see the whole of us, to render us fairly and try to understand our complexities. Unfortunately, the artist’s motive is often more to do with projecting or reflecting a part of themselves rather than reaching an empathetic understanding of their subjects. What they were looking for, really, is a mirror.