A path winds its way through a bush in the heart of the astonishing art park of Château La Coste. It is not a path like all the others, but a trail which, when traveled, makes us participants in an introspective process and puts us in communion with the artist and his itinerary of reflection.

Sophie Calle places a wooden sign indicating a direction. The choice is ours whether to follow it or not. On the sign, in clear black letters, an inscription: Dead End. Dead-end road is the meaning we attribute to it, but we still cannot understand how much a more direct meaning is actually the more apt one. We move our steps in the indicated direction, more intrigued than intimidated.

We stop observing a small metal box, placed on the side of the path. The instructions invite us to open it, and to deliver our secrets. Let’s take a small sheet of paper and, drawing from the depths of our spirit, we extract a secret to write down. What is a secret for us is a vast and multifaceted matter. Our secret doesn’t necessarily have to be something unspeakable, maybe it’s just hidden for fear of the judgment of others, or it’s a small moment of our lives that we want to keep just for ourselves, without sharing it with others. It could be something that we have forgotten, that needs to be looked for thoroughly. It can be a truth that we don’t even want to share with our selves, because it scares us or makes us fragile. The secret is everything to us, and the step of sharing it, even with a sheet of paper, can scare us. By taking this step, we show that we trust the artist and his request, however unusual.

The secret is now in the leaflet, which we carefully fold to keep it that way. We proceed to that “dead end” that reveals its true nature. The path stops and at our feet, in a candid white, the shapes of a tombstone emerge. Engraved on its surface is the profile of a coffin, inside which we clearly read an epitaph: “Here rest the ramblers’ secrets” (Ici reposent les secrets des promeneurs). This is not a warning or advice. Perhaps an invitation, certainly a truth. A fissure in the marble allows us to let the secret written on the sheet slip, let go in a place that we do not see and cannot know. Not lost, because that is not a place of oblivion, but guarded by the cold stone and by those powerful words.

Wanting to believe the artist, we can confide our secret with extreme certainty, we can make sure that it joins that of many other wayfarers, down in the cool darkness that the marble seals. Now the hesitation of choice mixes with curiosity. Freed from the burden, we can retrace our steps, perhaps lighter, participating in an artistic act that continues over time, companions of many other “promeneur” who have shared their secrets with stone and the unknown.

Sophie Calle, during the installation of the work in 2018, carried out a performance in which, sitting next to the metal box on the path, she offered visitors a choice, whether to confide the secrets to paper and then to the tomb at the end of the path, or tell them directly to the artist. An even greater test of trust.

In the artwork, waiting, death, secret and the awareness of existing as bearers of secrets intersect in a linear path like the one we travel as we approach the end, that “dead end”, that dead-end road which materializes in white marble, the ultimate destination in advance encountered, which allows us to settle accounts with ourselves.

Project details

Design: Sophie Calle
Project Location: Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, France
Typology: Installation, contemporary art
Built: 2018
Photo credits: © Gaël Glaudel

Sohie Calle

Sohie Calle

Sophie Calle is a French artist who has exhibited extensively throughout the world since the late 1970s. Variously described as a conceptual artist, a photographer, a movie director, and even a detective, she has developed a practice that is instantly recognizable for its distinct narrative elements and frequent combination of images with text. Each of her projects can be seen as a chapter in a vast overall volume of references and echoes, in which Calle often blurs the boundaries between the intimate and the public, reality and fiction, art and life. Her work methodically orchestrates an unveiling of reality – her own and that of others – while allocating a controlled part of this reality to chance.