N: Hey there! It's awesome to have you here. I've been a fan of your page for ages! How's it going? I know you like to keep things mysterious, but could you share a couple of tidbits about yourself that won't give your identity away? And by the way, where did the name "Agent Labradeur" come from?
A: Well, if I have to say something about me… I´d say that I'm 28, male, vers and can host.
The name Agent Labradeur is an ironic allusion to the brand name Agent Provocateur and a Labrador as a guide dog, bloodhound, a metaphor for scout. That is why there's one of the "models“ kissing a dog-scout in the profile image of the page.
N: So, how did you come up with the idea for this page?
A: It all began with my desire to do something with this overload of images - billions of images on the internet, poorly stored, and seemingly unwanted.
So, I embarked on the task of archiving and creating my own digital archive of images. This is my curation work, so to speak.
The paradox lies in the fact that everything people post on the internet remains there forever, yet it can also be permanently deleted or lost. To some extent, this is a form of digital archaeology.
Each image that captivates me evokes the spirit of an explorer. In my artistic practice, I utilize my personal archives for various projects, and "Agent Labradeur Agency" is just one of them. On my computer, it's labeled "OOO АЖАН ЛАБРАДОР."
The next idea revolves around the notion that in our times, museum and gallery spaces have been replaced by the digital realm. All our inspiration and spiritual sustenance now come through our mobile phones.
So I decided to create an art project in the form of a fake model agency, presented as an Instagram profile.
This project is supposed to be accessible to all internet users, anytime and anywhere. It is, in a way, my satirical response to the recent trend in which various fashion companies exoticize people from Eastern Europe.
Another idea that the project explores is data extractivism where personal information about individuals online is appropriated without their consent. That is why it is an integral part of my project's concept: the people I feature are unaware that they have become victims of my scouting. I wanted to reflect how you never know where your photograph will end up after you've shared it online, or for what purposes it will be used. None of the internet users read the terms of agreement when registering on a particular platform, and almost always, it states that the images you upload can be saved, reshared, and used by third parties. It's an official trap for extracting our information for any kind of profit.
The process of searching for "models" consumes a significant amount of time, as I simply enter a city into the VK social network's search bar and scroll through all its residents to find those who, in my opinion, have no connection, and are unlikely to ever be connected, to the fashion industry. I call my model search process "doom scrolling.”
To cut this long story short, I attempted to incorporate multiple layers into this project and thematize various social phenomena. The fact that it takes the form of a model agency account is, let´s say, the surface layer.
N: I took a deep dive into your Instagram, and your very first post featured a brown-haired woman you thought was "Perfect for Vetements." I totally agree! In my imagination, her name is Ulyana; she's got three kids and works in IT, ( remotely so she can keep an eye on the kids). If you had to whip up a quick backstory for her, who is she and what's she up to?
A: Let's do it. I'll go from your description. Ulyana, 33, is a single mother raising three kids in Belarus. She works in IT and used to enjoy Aphex Twin's music when she was younger, but not anymore.
In 2020, she joined protests against the rigged presidential election.
After the authorities cracked down on the protests, she lived in depression and in a state of constant fear.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, she protested against the war but got arrested by the police and spent two weeks in jail. Fearing for her safety and her children's, she had to leave Belarus and now lives in Lithuania, still working in IT.
Her Aphex Twin T-shirt is left forgotten somewhere in the pile of old clothes at her apartment in Belarus.
N: One thing I love about your page is that, aside from the irony, you really nail your castings! Do you have a background in fashion?
A: Thank you. No, I don't have any background in fashion. Fashion was my interest when I was a teenager. It was something that did not really exist in my native city and totally used to stir my imagination online back in the days. I am passionate about filmmaking. I had a period in my life when I practically never left the house and watched 2-3 movies a day and watched a total of 1500 movies. I think that's where I got my fascination with human faces from and where my face recognition skill roots. In the future, I see myself trying my hand at movie casting or fashion.
N: We touched on the idea that your page is essentially an art project. I would frame your work as an exploration into the way images proliferate across the internet and gain new significance/market value when recontextualized. This idea strikes a chord with the fashion industry, where something that would be considered "tacky" in, let's say, suburban Moldova can instantly become "fashion" when transplanted to the heart of Paris. What are your thoughts on this?
A: Throughout the ages, artists have drawn inspiration from suburban Moldova. It seems to me that the concept of classism is intertwined here. What is often considered "tacky" by a certain group of people is usually attributed, to put it bluntly, to the working class. Only when an artist incorporates certain elements or objects into their collections do they unexpectedly acquire artistic value in the eyes of the public. Though these elements were always present. Here, the question is more about how designers work with this information and how they skillfully transform it into a statement. In my view, some manage to do this successfully without necessarily relocating it to the heart of Paris.
N: I watched a documentary recently about Russian models and how during the Soviet years, people from all over the Russian empire got exiled to Siberia. According to this documentary lol, this diversity is what makes Siberia the holy land for model scouts looking for interesting faces. What do you think sets "Slavic models" ( as a concept ) apart and keeps them in demand in the ever-changing world of fashion casting and beauty standards?
A: Eastern Europe was once a relatively closed-off region, either directly a part of the Soviet Union or heavily influenced by it, until the early nineties. Therefore, individuals with an "Eastern European phenotype and background" were considered exotic in the West, where the fashion industry had been flourishing for years. It's evident that when people from Eastern European countries gained the freedom to travel and work abroad, they quickly became objects of fascination and exotization for the fashion industry, seen as fresh material to work with. However, it wouldn't be surprising to me to discover that they are also paid less than their Western colleagues.
N: Your page definitely has that 2000s Facebook or "VK" (for those not in the know, it's Russian social media) vibe. It adds to the humor, but also fits perfectly with the heyday of the "Russian model" era in the 2000s. Do you have a favorite fashion era that you're drawn to?
A: Yes, when it comes to the aesthetics of my project, I try to source images from the early days of digital photography. This was a time when small digital cameras became accessible to the masses, much like the initial mobile phones with built-in cameras.
During these years, people's creativity blossomed, as anyone could try their hand at being a photographer or a model. I wanted to capture this specific era.
However, returning to your question about my favorite fashion era, I would have to say it's the nineties. I believe that during this time, the fashion world reached the zenith of being ensconced in its own self-indulgence, completely disregarding what was transpiring outside of its bubble.
There's something about the fashion industry's perverse obsession with itself during that period that captivates me.
N: Last question, if Agent Labradeur were a casting agency, which brand do you think it would be "Perfect for"? Fill in the blank with the first brands that come to mind!
A: Let me be boring and not drop any names here. I would say that it would be an Eastern European brand of up-cycled clothes. Aligning with the Agent Labradeur concept of up-cycling, though in this case, it being images online.
All Images Courtesy of Agent Labradeur