D.D. We know nothing about your training ? You never speak about it. How did you come to develop an interest in « complexity » ?
P. D. I got involved with « complexity » when I began to wonder about the relevance of digital tools in artistic practices. I was trained as an engineer. I studied programming, algorithms and various computer language systems but I remained reluctant to use computers in art for quite a while. In the eighties, I was still painting and it is only very progressively that I inserted computer-generated prints in my paintings. It started with etchings as the use of the copper plate is quite close to that of the digital file. At that period, I produced a lot of prints from the same plate and it is a little bit the same with what I do now with computers by repeating almost ad libitum the same geometrical elements. From the start, by inserting digital components in paintings, I meant to generate forms – not to reproduce or imitate hand-made figures – such as spirals which are very difficult to produce by hand. I soon discovered complex geometrics, including fractals, some of which being inherently impossible to produce by hand. I eventually gave up paint and brush completely in 1993.
Is complexity a relevant concept when applied to art or mere hype ?
To me, there is nothing complicated in complexity. It is more something to do with spaces or environments borne out of the relations that exist among the various elements involved. The simpler they are, the more visually rich the relations become. That is when complexity is generated, out of an interaction of simple forces. Simplicity is essential to me as new technologies tend to make it much easier to produce complicated sophisticated images than simple ones. My own way of working with computers is simplistic ; I try to make the most of it as a computational tool for its capacity to ceaselessly repeat the same task, Arte Povera-like if you wish, but with the use of new technologies. The software and hardware that I work with are not the latest in high-tech development. As an example, my recent work SpamScape is activated by a banal computer that you can buy round the corner. The notion of complexity is up to date as it echoes the political, social and economic situation of the world. Yet, new technologies also represent a return to the Baroque since the world we live in is not linear but multidimensional, elliptic, layered in networks… in short, a world rich with complexity. Christine Buci-Glucksmann has written extensively on the subject and dealt with most of the issues at stake, from an aesthetic point of view. You should listen to her words, not mine!
You belonged to the “Fractalist Group” ; how was it regarded on the contemporary art scene? Did you feel you were part of a coherent group? What did you learn from that experience?
The group’s activities are to be considered within the context of the early 90s. In the sixties and seventies, it was the idea of reproduction that was crystallizing the issues and concerns of the times. In the nineties, it was the idea of networks, especially as developed byDeleuze & Guattari, which was the prevailing one. The Internet had not yet made a breakthrough and it was still quite abstract and conceptual ; it had not found a visual reality. Mandelbrot’s discovery of fractal images and their vulgarization in the late eighties through the development of personal computers were a shock to a number of artists, including me. They were new forms that could not be produced without computers (early twentieth century mathematicians had already conceived their self-similarity but Mandelbrot could not have completed his fractal geometrics without the power of computers). Besides, these images provided a link among various fundamentals such as chaos, infinity and the question – both scientificic and philosophical – of scaling the relation between micro and macro universes. We were several isolated artists working with or on fractals. We were all concerned with pictorial space and the problematics that surface and illusion can bring about. To us, fractals added an exciting fractional dimension between a two-dimensional flat image and a three-dimensional structure. The group took shape under the impulse of two art critics, the Frenchman Henri François Debailleux and the American Susan Condé. It was active between 1995 & 2000 through many exhibitions in France and abroad, gathering about twenty-five artists working in different disciplines, and not automatically with computers. Later, with the popularity and commodification of fractal images (notably with the growing success of mainstream techno music), their artistic exploitation became more anecdotal. The group was also dissolved as the necessity of a collective position had become less urgent.
At a time when the medium is paradoxically back into force, to which artistic practice do you relate your work?
It is painting in so far as painting questions space, illusion and the sensational disturbances they provoke on and within us. Whatever the final product (lit boxes, lenticular pictures, video projections), I work with environments which are originally formed with flat objects. I operate on windows in so far as my works are fragments of larger structures which exceed the limits of the canvass. This is why what I do is still painting even if I use neither paint, brush nor canvass.
Are you a hybrid artist or an artist working on hybridization ? Would you describe your works as environements or interactive hybrid objects that mix art forms and cultures?
The role of tools is of paramount importance to me as I think that an ever challenging attitude towards production tools leads the way for the creative process and the emergence of new propositions. Even though there are many risks involved in such experimentation, the failure probability should not be intimidating but rather encouraging. What I do might be described as abstract but my pictures deal with the sensations that one might have when in contact with new technologies. My job is not to represent these sensations but rather to work on similar ones. For example, when I produce network structures, I do not intend to create a metaphor of digital networks or of what it feels like to use such networks, but rather to render sensations in relation to such universes, such as vertigo, serenity, vortex, spell, curse, alacrity, infinitude, dejà vu experiences of non structuring structures. To put it in a nutshell, I work with new technologies and on the various sensational environments that they give birth to. I do not believe that an artist can be a mere user of technological tools. He should constantly question, transgress and reinvent them. Hybridization, to me, is part and parcel of this questioning. It is not an end in itself, just a means to develop richer and more complex structures. Maybe you should read the article “La main de l’Homme” that Blackhawk, the American critic, has devoted to one of my exhibitions. It deals with all this in a much more eloquent manner than what I can say myself here.
Techne plays an important role in your art. Would you agree with Edmond Couchot that there might be a danger to work with such tools as the artist might be forced to espouse the aesthetics that are attached to them by default ?
Every artist who works with new technologies has to face such a danger. But it is also a sign of the tepidness – maybe some updated form of snobbery – of our times not to acknowledge that this kind of debate is universal and timeless. My own way of dodging such traps is to use those technologies in a simplistic manner to maintain my independence from them. The simpler the manner of exploiting them is, the less operational their aesthetics by default become. The concept becomes clearer, the project becomes more independent. Who would blame Seurat for his eagerness to learn optometrics or Nam June Paik for his passionate interest in cathodic tubes? I can see nothing in their works which is the result of being deceived or duped by the “aesthetics by default” to which you refer.
What is your political and artistic position on technology ? Does your art convey the promethean out-of-bond-ness and the positivistic ideology of progress condemned by Paul Virilio? Are your metaphors consensual or differential?
My position is that of a modernist ; what I mean is that I attempt to develop new forms. Novelty is not an aim in itself but it certainly is a necessary one. The artist’s role is to make and produce things ; intellectually speaking, to deal with what is unthought, not yet thought or what is unthinkable. It is the only way not to get bored to death. With or without irony, I would say that I certainly do not intend to repeat the scales of art history!
What do you show to the viewers? What experience do you invite them to?
I wish to disturb them. I enjoy inviting them to playing a sort of game. Optical devices such as lenticulars for instance force them to move and walk past them. It is my job to confront the human viewer with ‘his/her’ own primitive irrationality through my artworks, the results of an abuse of technological processes.
Do you consider today’s painting as an outdated art form to describe the world ?
Painting is an archaic activity and one of its strong points is the matter-of-fact quality of its surface. A digital print remains flat, cold and in a way too neat. A monochome layer of paint is optically richer and more complex than a digital print. I strive to reach the same matter-of-fact quality with digital tools and to produce accidental, complete and impure images. Lenticulars do that and lit boxes not only show one particular picture but they also contain ghost images of previous or succeeding moments of one ongoing process. What I am really interested in is an image which is never neat and proper but full of remanences.
Do your projects represent some continuity or a break from American abstract expressionism or Op Art ? Are they counter proposals, updates or expanded versions of such trends?
I think my work is very much inscribed within the evolution of abstract painting. Jackson Pollock questioned the tools and explored new forms while introducing notions of immersion and vertigo in painting and I feel quite close to Op artist Briget Riley who dwelt on visual perception and deception. Piet Mondrian is another important artist for me. His late series Boogie Woogie is remarkable for its renewed complexity, its treatment or the New York urban environment and mapping and the courage he showed in reconsidering the whole pictorial practice of a lifetime.
Some of your installations can be said to belong to so-called extensive and analytical art. But there also seems to be an architectural ambition in them with your interest in questions of space and territory?
The structures I generate feed on almost endless proliferations. So they can invade spaces until a complete blackout is reached. I either work on fragments or a whole environment. I took into account the limits imposed by space for the purpose of this exhibition. I did not make the projections proliferate on the surrounding walls as I did elsewhere. I chose “delineated” works for this show and considered the hanging as a coherent whole ; the various pieces respond to one another and they react to the rooms’ architecture and volumes. Yet, the point is not ro recreate some kind of architecture but rather to facilitate the viewer’s wandering itinary among a network of pieces. It is just like entering a conceptual, perceptual, sensationalist labyrinth, so to speak.
You asked Thanos Chrysakis to compose the music for your installation SpamScape. Is it a first-time experience ?
I have long wished to collaborate with a musician on my videos. There are many links between visual and audio perceptions. I had the opportunity to discover his music during an exhibition on generative art in Milan. His approach to digital tools is very close to mine. There was soemthing natural and evident in our collaboration from the start.
Does the audio dimension work as ornament or does it contribute to the sensationalism you were referring to ? Are there other implications?
In SpamScape sound reinforces the feeling of being immersed and confronted with the screen. That is why it is an inherent part of the piece. It certainly is no addendum. There are many links between visual and musical forms, especially since the early twentieth century. I have been impressed recently by a series of excellent exhibitions in relation to this : “Sons et lumières” in Paris (MAM), “Visual Music in Los Angeles or “What Sounds Does a Color Make” in New York City.
In SpamScape sound and images alike react to the viewers’ movements through captors here and there. Is interactivity – so much hyped today that it is becoming almost a gadget – an essential condition of your work, is it a mark of its originality, a sign indicating the future direction of your activities ?
First, it seems to me that every work of art is interactive by essence. From a mechanistic point of view, interactivity is far more attractive as well as dangerous because it can so easily become a gadget.
In the case of Spamscape, I tried to develop some soft interactivity. The interactive device is very discreet and hardly visible (infra-red captors pass unnoticed). The interaction is not immediate, the speed and volume grow gradually, leaving some mystery to the installation. There is no T.V. remote control around!
With lenticulars, the interactivity plays with the viewers’ physical lateral movements in front of the pieces : if they want to look at them, they have to walk past them. With Spamscape, I rather play with the forward/backward movement which finally tempts viewers to try and dive into it. But the closer to the screen you are, the less you can see as the flickering image (from black to white, as in ghost images or subliminal pictures) up to the point that at some stage it can no longer be looked at. Visualizing such images is based on a principle which is at odds with what happens in the spectacle of a classical picture.
An interview with Danielle Delouche, curator
Translation by Didier Girard