“As an artist, what is hard in Hong Kong is trying to focus on just one thing, because there are so many things to be inspired by,” sighs French artist, Camille Levert. As long time residents of the city, we couldn’t agree more. But by zeroing in on a handful of the SAR’s most iconic symbols — the neon lights, the wild flora and historic architecture — we think Levert has captured the best of the city, in full 3D photo collage glory of course. Her ‘Layers of Hong Kong’ exhibition is a mesmerizing love letter to the city we call home, and we couldn’t wait to find out more from the artist herself. Join us as we sit down with Levert to discuss all things art, home, and her love of Hong Kong cinema.
Hi Camille! How would you describe your work?
I started as a photographer. My work as a photographer is mainly still life and portrait. After maybe four or five years I started to do some collage. I love to collect things – and I love cutting magazines and sorting my cuttings into files. I started with photography, but more and more I use photography as a material to do something else. I love to mix [photography] with other techniques, like embroidery.
In the end, I would define my work as mixed media, based on photography. I want to stay in photography because I love taking photographs. But I love to experiment with what I can do with photography. I cannot stop at clicking and printing, that’s just the start.
Can you tell us more about the ‘Layers of Hong Kong’ exhibition?
The idea was to have a collection of small pieces in 3D photo collage. It’s all inspired by the city, from the native Hong Kong flora to the iconic neon signs. With the 3D photo collage technique, it’s really craftwork. It’s a long, meticulous process. I can spend three weeks on one piece. Each print is cut with a scalpel. Then I have to stick the print onto cardboard so I can rebuild the perspective and the distance between the elements of the picture. There are typically between 10 and 12 layers of prints in each piece.
[The exhibition] is very tactile. I like the fact that it gives back the materiality of the photograph. When I started photography, it was only paper with film – it was a physical object. But now, it’s more digital photography on a screen. And you can touch it to slide it but you cannot hold it. I like this side of my work, that it’s like an object again.
“The neon signs are my last works. I think I will make more in the future because I love it. I love the part where I have to go everywhere in Kowloon to look for them. It’s like an adventure.”
What draws you to the houses and buildings you choose?
Initially I’m very attracted to colors. I really love colors and shapes. It’s true that I would also like to do a series of the old houses that I think may disappear one day, to keep the memory alive.
Which artists or photographers do you take inspiration from?
There is one artist whose portrait I have in my studio, David Hockney. Because he’s like a god to me. I like the words he says about art. He’s a real inspiration, truly. He’s still like a kid when it comes to experimenting. That’s the inspiration for me — that Hockney can still find something new, even after all these years. That he still experiments and finds new ways of representing things.
“When I wander in Hong Kong, I wander always with a purpose. I prepare a map of places I want to go. Sometimes you have surprises, but most of the time, if I go to Cheung Chau for example, I will only look for the houses that I want to put in 3D.”
How do you like to style your home?
Our house is very much centered on music. My husband is passionate about jazz music especially. And our son plays music too, so we have a lot of instruments. We have the vinyl record player. And lots of plants! I would say it’s eclectic, but it’s cozy and artistic. We have yellow and red chairs — we have a lot of red. We have green carpet. We love colors!
Where do you go for inspiration in Hong Kong?
First, I would say around Yau Ma Tei. I love Yau Ma Tei because in a pretty small area you have Temple Street and the Mido Cafe, you have the Broadway Cinematheque with the beautiful bookshop, and the fruit market is also beautiful. I also love Cheung Chau. You have the fisherman boats, you can hike, you can go to the beaches; and I love to look at the old houses there.
What’s next for you?
My next project is centered on Hong Kong cinema. When I first moved to Hong Kong, I found a book by Hong Kong artist Rex Koo. He’s an illustrator and he works a lot on the cinema theme. This was the first door I opened to Hong Kong cinema, and it inspired me to watch the movies. I fell in love with not only the movies but the whole culture. Hong Kong used to be the city of cinema, just like Hollywood. It’s very inspiring.
This is definitely my big project and I will be sad if I can’t achieve it before I go back to France. With this project, it will be bigger pieces. I would love to have someone to work with me, like a curator. Maybe we could have an exhibition with some videos playing, and other artists. Maybe we could make something great about Hong Kong cinema. I give myself one year to finish the series.
This interview with Camille Levert has been edited for clarity and length.
What do you think of Camille Levert’s work? If you’d like to see more in person, head to the Rouge Ephemere Gallery between November 22 and December 15 to get up close and personal with the exhibition!