'Oct 6, 10.36am: 14St & 6th Ave, NE corner: Man in red jacket ..he walks N on 6th, W side of street. 10.38am: he stops at 15St, SW corner, and hails cab. 10.44am: he gets into cab'
Vito Acconci - Following Piece
His work demonstrates how the urban public space is defined by these random encounters between strangers. During the act of following, the artist's subjective will is submitted to the movements of the person being followed and becomes an activity where, as he himself described it, "I am almost not an 'I' anymore; I put myself in the service of this scheme."
A decade later, French photographer Sophie Calle embarked on a similar project entitled Suite Vénitienne, when she decided on a whim to follow a stranger she first saw on the street in Paris and later met at a party. On hearing that the man was about to visit Venice, she elected to go there too, and set about finding out where he was staying. For two weeks she trailed the man wherever he went, photographing the sights that he photographed, questioning people he came across to discover his plans for the day, adopting the disguise of a blonde wig and sunglasses in the best tradition of the private detective.
Suite Vénitienne - Sophie Calle
At first glance it might appear that these examples of shadowing are merely voyeuristic in nature but in fact retracing another person's steps can be seen as a particular kind of chance tactic, a strategy for getting lost and abandoning one's will rather than any particular interest in the life of the person being followed. It can be viewed as a kind of depaysement - that Situationist tactic where one is 'taken out of one's element and misled'. The act of following can be seen as a game which has its own rules and rituals. It is a kind of mimicry or role-play in which the subject may forget or temporarily shed his personality to take on another. As such it becomes a method of escape from oneself, and also encompasses the make-believe aspect of game-playing, which is accompanied by a special awareness of a different reality as opposed to real, everyday life. It serves to distance you from the familiar and make you scrutinise the mundane, overlooked aspects of your environment as though looking at the world through a stranger's gaze.
It can also be looked upon as a sort of seduction. In his introductory essay to Suite Vénitienne, entitled Please Follow Me, philosopher Jean Baudrillard asserts that the desire to penetrate the secrets of another is a kind of possession which requires a ritual. He maintains that "people's lives are haphazard paths that have no meaning and lead nowhere and which, for that very reason, are curious." By following in someone else's tracks you are "distancing yourself from your own self, you exist only in the trace of the other, but without his being aware of it" and that you are in a way following your own tracks without realising it. In effect it becomes an act of possession which is reciprocal "shadowing implies this surprise, the possibility of reversal is necessary to it" - the idea that the person being followed can suddenly sense that their space has been invaded, turn round and challenge the follower.