Meet the Photographic Artist with Seven Different Identities
Aliases have been used liberally throughout history to conceal the identity of their creators, or to allow a greater degree of flexibility in artistic work.
Take Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, for example, who wrote under as many as 81 pseudonyms, or the Brontë sisters, who assumed neutral names in order to publish their works in a society which rejected female authors.
It’s less common however to discover a whole art collective, seemingly comprising seven members, which turns out to represent the seven alternate identities of just one.
Such is the case for Live Wild, an art collective founded by French photographer Camille Lévêque in the summer of 2014.
As she describes it, the set-up is simple. “Officially, there are seven members in Live Wild,” she tells AnOther, their names (Charlotte Fos, Anna Hahoutoff, Marguerite Horay, Ina Lounguine, Lucie Khahoutian, Lila Khosrovian: together forming an acrostic for ‘Camille’) and personal histories all drawn from members of her own family. “Informally, there is just one: myself.”
Lévêque was driven to found the collective by her frustration with the limits of her chosen genre.
In her seven aliases, she has found the freedom to experiment with different media and techniques; the vivid works she produces range from off-kilter gifs and digitally distorted found images to photo collages and still life compositions.
But more than simply practical, the invention of these characters is part of a wider socio-cultural narrative, permitting her to experiment with other identities and nationalities.
Maisie Skidmore, 2017
The fiction archives of the Live Wild collective’s identity weavings
For some ten years now, the number of collectives of varying kinds in France has increased, under different names. For instance, we have socio-economically based, multi-member groups, like the MYOP agency or the Studio hans lucas, which devotes itself to digital story-telling and the new photojournalistic scripts, while on the other side there are smaller bodies sharing theoretical attitudes, such as VOST (which translates as “original version with sub-titles”) and its documentary fictions.
As Marie Docher and the leaders of Visuelles Art noted, the number of women artists present at too many festivals and other institutions is very low (about 20%) whereas they represent 60% of the graduates from art schools. Recently, many women artist collectives have been created: let us just mention Gang of Witches, Collectif Essenci’Elles and Femmes Photographes, and since 2014 Live Wild. Camille Lévêque, this collective’s self-taught founder, comes from a French family of Russian and Armenian origins. Her work explores deeply intimate themes connected with both identity and genre studies, such as the father figure, the family, and personal archives.
To her side she brought six other women artists born between 1981 and 1993 and who work in photography and video, producing digital collages and animated GIFs, manipulating private archives in fictions and critical storytelling.
Despite the precise details of their CVs, the uniqueness of their approaches, and their references on social media, not one of these people actually exists; they are all the work of Camille Lévêque, who has adopted the literary heteronym scheme used by Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), applying it to the plastic arts. Pessoa had over seventy heteronyms, endowing each one meticulously with his (or her) own life, civil status, temperament, habits and individuality. He wrote and published their works, signed Alvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, António Mora and Bernardo Soares.
In the most literary fashion, when these first names are put in the right order, they spell out the artist’s first name: Charlotte, Anna, Marguerite, Ina, Lucie, Lina, while the E in Etc. represents the field of possibilities of representation. Camille Lévêque feeds her multifaceted work while she is travelling, bringing back shots and photo albums from the United States that have been thrown away or given to her by families.
While paradoxically raising the question of the singularity of the author, Camille Levêque’s entire approach, through her rereading of iconographies, be they popular, ethnographical or ideological, constitutes a highly original reweaving of her genealogy to include the shared aspirations of a generation in their thirties.
Christian Gattinoni, 2018
Fotopub - LIVE WILD first solo show
When I first landed on the Live Wild Collective’s website, I was welcomed by a light-bluish image of a computer desktop, which served as a backdrop to a white marble statue surrounded by folders and mountains. A glitch on the screen, and I found myself immersed in a fairy tale, between dreamlike mountainscapes and enchanted woods, flying carpets and golden cups, pomegranates and ancient beauties. Pixels and glitters.
Almost untraceable on social networks, the Live Wild have been using the Internet as their exhibition venue since its foundation in 2014, sharing all projects on the website.
The group is composed of seven women, born between 1981 and 1993 in different countries and living in just as many different places.
All seven artists have never met in one place at the same time, however they all met each other separately, in places between Armenia, Belgium, Canada, Georgia, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
When the collective was founded, a Dropbox folder was created. Each of the artists would contribute to it, as well as draw fully from it. Sharing research and visual imagery, they turned the archive into a driving force for carrying out their individual projects, be it collages, animated gifs, manipulated family photographs. As a result, recurring elements and bits of the very same pictures are often to be perceived – if not recognised –, fostering a dialogue between one work and another.
Albeit most images show a generous pinch of the low‐fi and beautifully cheesy digital aesthetics that have marked art, music and popular culture in the past years, the melting with other iconographies – Armenian especially –, together with the individual interests and cultural roots of the artists, brings fantasy and reality, old and new, digital and analogue, vintage and high‐tech, politics and popular culture to one single place, playing a symphony of original ingredients and engaging associations.
Ilaria Speri, 2016
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