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“I Want To Become A Minimalist”: A Q&A with Matt Pyke

The British artist/designer debuts 12 digital installations in Paris and discusses electric trees, abstract monsters and forces of nature.

Matt Pyke's first solo show, in Paris, is at once unnerving and familiar. The exhibited works are original, in situ digital installations of sound and light, specifically conceived for the Gaîté Lyrique's spaces, and they communicate with each other through correspondences and synesthesias of sound/light/space. Yet each of these digital works of art holds on to the artist and designer's visual lexicon. Within every installation, you can find a smart and joyful combination of naïve characters and abstract design, an obsession with transformation, manifestation, and metamorphosis.


We spoke with Pyke and Charlotte Léouzon, co-curator of the show, at the opening last week.

The Creators Project: The Gaité Lyrique just opened this March and it’s a very specific place in Paris. Do you think it is the right kind of initiative for the type of multidisciplinary art that you do?
Matt Pyke: Absolutely. This is a perfect first home for what we do. It's outside the standard fine art world, and outside of the design world.

It's also the perfect home for a first solo exhibition. You exhibited an installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year, but this is a significant change of scale.
Of course. It's the first exhibition that we've created [entirely]. A show about my work personally and the work of the people I collaborate with. It's the first time we can do something together on this scale and all the artworks for this exhibition are completely new, designed specifically for this place. This is the first time we had the chance to fill a space.

How did you apprehend the curation? I know you are a curator too, but this time you had to curate your own work.
We looked back on the processes and material we used. We tried to think about the works that were most successful to us, and to other people. Sometimes, we took the most successful starting points and developed artworks with that. So we kind of had a set evaluation system.

I note you say "we," and the show's called “Matt Pyke and Friends”. You invited all your friends and the people you collaborated with?
First, there is this studio that I run, called Universal Everything, of which I'm the creative director. I generally seed the ideas, and then work with collaborators, musicians, and animators who are experts at what they do, in things that I can't do, to realize and make the ideas better that I can achieve alone. I start the procedure and the idea, and then we work with collaborators to develop something beyond the original idea.


360° video projection, 6 speakers. Technique: real-time generative software.

The music in particular is really important in your work, especially in this exhibition. Each piece has its own soundscape, and it's not just sound but proper music compostion. How do you deal with music?
My brother Simon composed all the music. We have worked together on all of our projects. He has made the soundtracks for all the films we made, and all the digital artworks where the audio is controlling the movements and visuals. For this we actually used the whole building as an instrument. The sound for one artwork will leak to the next one, everything is in harmony. The soundtracks are indeed really important.

I've seen your 76 drawings that you hand-drew in 76 days with instructions from a computer. It looks like generative art, but in a way, reversed. Usually generative art is a human assisted by a computer, but in your case, it's a computer assisted by you.
Aha, yes. I studied drawing initially, and I still draw, so I wanted to have that part of the exhibition. Time has passed since I first studied drawing, and since then I have been influenced by generative art, and I wanted to use the aesthetic influence of that. So I created a really simple digital application to inform what I drew every morning. It was also a nice way of overcoming the fear of the black canvas.

Let’s talk about the creatures in this exhibition. It's been said that your world is filled with fantastic figures, weird creatures, monsters, very naïve figures that may be linked to childhood. But in a way, they're deceptively naïve because I feel they can be really worrying.
I think I try to create naïve characters. I always try to create things that are really clever and really simple at the same time. I'm not interested in cartoon design, I'm more interested in anthropomorphism, objects with human tendencies. I like to create these giant, anonymous abstract sculptures that are just walking, going forward. They are not human but they have a simple human behavior so you can develop empathy towards them. It works in the same way with my 3D printed characters. They are built on a severe serious mathematical model, but they have a personality and you begin to form a relationship with them.


Electric Trees
Black ink, UV ink, UV light, motion sensors. Technique: generative software

You have these naïve creatures but at the same time, you seem fascinated by some primal drives, primitive appeals and forces of nature. I have seen these really simple electric trees, with elegant, beautiful branches. Your work seems to embody a certain drive towards simplicity.
I think so, yet I think it's less simplicity and more so me wanting to become a minimalist. I'm more taking a really simple essence of nature to create my ideas. When you look at nature, it's really simple, and artists or designers should take the same approach as Mother Nature does. For instance, for this installation downstairs, those electric trees, I try to work with technology in a simplistic way. If we are too seduced by technology, then it's just technology showing off.

The exhibition pamphlet says you have a "sensual approach to technology." Do you agree? What does that mean?
Yes. I'm more interested in using strong emotions, intense colors, analogies, music. And I'm drawn to technology because of its power. I use it as a tool to create beautiful things. That's how I see technology, it's just a very powerful paintbrush.

Charlotte Léouzon: We were talking about nature, and I think what I like about Matt is his romanticism. He is not just a "new media artist" or a "technology artist." Matt is more about very lyrical expressions, the sublime, the absolute, the extreme forces of nature, extreme feelings, which give this dramatic dimension to his artworks. There is a strong "Myth of Sisyphus" dimension to his work. It often deals with ontological questions about eternity, matter, all these big questions that concern any living form, actually. All the pieces are sedimented by issues of the infinitely large and the infinitely small.

Matt: I'm very interested in science, and specifically in the fundamental, like the building blocks of the universe. So rather than responding to our place in society, it's more about responding to our place in the universe. It's kind of a bigger scale.

Photos courtesy of Maxime Dufour.