Introduction to the Visual Arts

Counterfactual Identity


montage of 4 Nikki S. Lee projects: The Yuppie Project, The Seniors Project, The Lesbian Project, and The Ohio Project. In each project Nikki S. Lee becomes part of a subculture and photographs herself enmeshed in that community.

Nikki, Darko, LonelyGirl & You

In Wk 6 we met Nikki S. Lee, photographer, identity artist, and sort of patron saint for counterfactual identity. We saw how adept she was at taking on new personas, and this week our challenge is to try an alternate persona or “Counterfactual Identity” ourselves.

Artists Eva & Franco Mattes have created identity projects like Luther Blissett and Darko Maver. The Internet is, surprise! a great place for trying out alternative identities. In 2006 a web series lonelygirl15 was launched, and for the first 3 or 4 months, nobody knew it was fictional. It was played as “real” content. After the show was outed as fictional, it still ran for another 2 years.


What is Counterfactual Identity?

“Counter” like counterclockwise + “Factual” = “Fake”?

The reason I don’t just use a simpler word like “Fake” is that when you explore counterfactual space you consider a range of possibilities and ways of being both personally and culturally. We touched on this when we thought about Realism & Romanticism. This week with Abstraction & Representation we see how different aesthetic qualities might evoke different perceptual sensitivities from us.

What do you think on meeting Darth Vader for the first time?
What do you think on meeting Anakin Skywalker for the first time?

Everything you can imagine is real.
— Pablo Picasso

We set our own limits.
— Lady Gaga

We all consider ourselves to be unique and special people. Yet there are a lot of similarities in the ways we live out the days of our lives. Could we imagine wider? Could we set different limits? Should we? Do we want to?

press clippings about artist Darko Maver
Darko Maver


  • Stand in the quad at campus (or anywhere on, or off, campus really) and wear something out of the ordinary.
  • Ask random people “what do you think my name is? What do you think my major is?” etc


  • Wear something fun! Don’t be yourself! Think outside of the box! This is your chance to talk to random people shamelessly which can be difficult for some people so just have fun with the project and don’t take it too seriously!


  • Stand where there are quite a few people and don’t go to the deserted parts of campus.

Blog It!

For your blog of this activity, include:

  • “before & after” photos of yourself
  • Describe what you tried to do
  • If possible any photos with people you encounter would be nice (not required)
  • What were their reactions to you? What did they think your name was? Your major? Did you find them responding to you differently than people ordinarily do?
  • Your conclusions about the experience
photo of Willow and Buffy from the Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 2, episode 6
Willow explores a more outgoing persona and Buffy considers life as an 18th century lady in the “Halloween” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Banner for Art110, Fall 2014

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

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