Summer 2011

Seeds of digital romanticism

Matt Pyke & Friends: Super – Computer – Romantics

La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, 21 April – 27 May 2011

Matt Pyke is a renowned English artist and designer who works at the forefront of digital techniques using generative code-based processes. Also known as Universal Everything, he has worked with many high-profile clients in advertising but has still managed to maintain a distinct aesthetic. Bold, strikingly colourful and invariably experimental, this aesthetic is intrinsically linked with the computer yet has a certain sensuality that is driven by Pyke’s attraction to nature.

Pyke’s work is highly individual but it is often given a dialogue because he has always worked on a collaborative basis with other artists and designers, as is evident from this adventurous show at Paris’s new digital arts space, La Gaîté Lyrique in the heart of the Marais.

Many of the objects, drawings, videos, projections and installations on show here were created specifically for the event. Each is a collaboration with friends and embraces the digital from a playful and poetic perspective. The results are impressive, from large-scale projections such as Supreme Believers (with Chris Perry) to tiny generative sculptures made with Karsten Schmidt.

‘Generative’ is the modus operandi here and it is nice to see that it really is the underlying process. There is no better example, nor simpler for that matter, than Pyke’s 76 Seeds – a series of 76 hand-made drawings with Simon Thompson, created entirely on a system of simple random instructions. A nod to Sol LeWitt, perhaps, but again the work emphasises nicely a process of creation that all the artists in the exhibition have in common.

Another dimension that is omnipresent throughout this collaborative set-up is sound, which plays an important role in Pyke’s vision. His brother and long-time collaborator, Simon, has created all the music and sound design for the exhibition. If there is one particular work that epitomises this harmonious mélange, it is Communion, an installation piece created with Marcus Wendt and Vera-Maria Glahn of Field (see ‘10,000 one-offs’ about their collaboration with SEA, in Eye 80). It places the spectator in a big dark room and basks you in an audiovisual feast of pure delight, in a playground of constantly evolving music and generative visuals. Enough to convince anyone to change their ideal bedroom design.

The Transfiguration is the exhibition’s emblematic piece, a series of walking figures projected on to a wall. They repeatedly mutate, from stone to metal, fire and fur, each with its own raw sound that resonates on each step and fills the lower part of the space. It is a reworking of earlier Pyke animations for MTV, a client upon which a generation of motion graphic designers have been nurtured.

Spread out on to three levels, ‘Super – Computer – Romantics’ loses itself a little in the vast open spaces of La Gaîté Lyrique and some of the installations could have been presented differently. It didn’t seem right, for example, to play a 51-minute retrospective of Pyke’s studio and client work on an LCD screen, or the DVD Advanced Beauty, which he curated in 2009.

That aside, Matt Pyke and friends have managed to claim their space in the heart of Paris. And what better place is there to express this group of romantics turned super digital, creating playful, highly imaginative audiovisual pieces that awaken emotion driven by the perennial search for beauty.

First published in Eye no. 80 vol. 20 2011

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue.