[Paper Journal UK]
The 'We' Inside Of An 'I'
At Unseen Amsterdam this past September 2017, a new programme within the weekend-long photography festival entitled the Unseen CO-OP was introduced. Headed up by curator Lars Willumeit, the CO-OP saw 13 international collectives take over the city’s Transformatorhuis with exhibitions, installations and happenings.
Willumeit wrote extensively on his research for the project, working through some of the reasons why collaborative practice and collective production is so enduringly vital for artists in everything from research to dissemination. Touching on the sense of community, shared skills and resources, and the way it can ease the precarity of working alone as an artist (financially, socially, emotionally et al), he offered collective work as defined by ‘social processes and relationalities between artist, subject, viewer and their common world.’
So, if collective work does afford all of those things, then what does simply presenting yourself as a collective afford you, even if you’re not a part of one?
What does simply saying ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ achieve?
How do people view work when you tell them it is made by several people as opposed to one?
At the same edition of Unseen Amsterdam, some of the CO-OP’s participating collectives took part in a panel discussion, and it was there that one of them, LIVE WILD, hailing from France, revealed that the collective was, in fact, fictional. The founder of LIVE WILD, Camille Lévêque, found herself telling the audience something she hadn’t to date: all seven members of the collective were her own alter egos, all the work hers.
Besides the support systems that collaboration can offer, a collective purports a meeting of minds, and a set of shared goals or a movement already in motion. Historically and in a contemporary sense, collectives have often been and are radical, political, and as much about social change as art making – the two entwined. Lévêque, untrained in photography in any classical sense and seeing herself as very much an outsider to the scene, wanted to make work that dealt with social and political ideas, and something about presenting herself as a collective of people allowed her to do that, in a multitude of different ways, with confidence.
Artists have been tricking the world for decades. Think of all the forgeries and the tall tales and the countless anecdotes of aliases and alter egos. I once had a conversation with a woman who knew an artist named Laura Keeble making forgeries of Damien Hirst skulls, and then tossing them out of the back of galleries on the days his shows were closing, revelling in glee at the small furore it caused when people thought these near-priceless objects were being rendered worthless as soon as an exhibition came down.
A high value is placed on humour for artists who work like this.
That aside, often time a deception like this will be a mask of some kind – allowing the thinker or the artist or the writer behind what we understand as the audience to make work they feel they cannot, or work they feel will be compromised in some way, if they make it as themselves, or as a singular entity.
Joanna L. Cresswell, 2018
The Family members
[Si Fest Catalogue]