Sophie Calle and the Art of Leaving a Trace

The French artist has attained celebrity—and attracted controversy—by pursuing the objects of her obsession. What is she really after?

In February, 1981, the French artist Sophie Calle took a job as a hotel maid in Venice. In the course of three weeks, with a camera and tape recorder hidden in her mop bucket, she recorded whatever she found in the rooms that she had been charged with cleaning. She looked through wallets and transcribed unsent postcards, photographed the contents of wastebaskets and inventoried the clothes hanging in closets. Her only rule, it seems, was to leave untouched any luggage that owners had had the foresight to lock. That is, unless they also left the luggage key, which, for Calle, was as good as an invitation.