The works of Matt Pyke (b.1975) seem to deal in the future, although it’s one very much informed by the past. Despite pushing technological boundaries – he uses words like “open-source” in the same way we would say “pencil” – Pyke turns to traditional methods for inspiration, which allows him to create work that sits somewhere between art and design. He is not alone, of course. Pyke is connected, and collaborates successfully with programmers, developers and other highly-talented hyphenates from all over the world.
We spoke to Matt at his studio on the outskirts of Sheffield. Half way through our conversation, the door opened to reveal birdsong…
It’s Nice That: You’ve recently split your practice in two. You maintain commercial studio Universal Everything, but now there’s Matt Pyke, the artist. What’s the reason for this?
Matt Pyke: There’s more people now involved with Universal Everything. Other people are working on things, leading projects, but ultimately it’s still my baby. A lot of the work still stems from initial seed ideas I have, and I then tend to oversee the creative direction, help to push people further. But I think, more and more, that Universal Everything is about getting really good teams of people together to work on things. And they have more and more responsibility. They’re not just executing whatever squiggle I’ve got in my brain.
INT: Where does that collaboration start?
MP: Generally it starts with a brief, and then we think: “Right, what can we do in-house and what do we need experts to help us with?” It’s then a matter of firing off some emails,
or calling people we know already. Often people respond and we meet them and if it all clicks then we go ahead. It’s as simple as that really.
INT: So how often do you sell an idea without being 100 per cent sure the technology exists, or, even if the technology exists, if there is a person who can actually use it?
MP: Often! We’ve managed to pull off some pretty odd projects, so I guess there’s a kind of trust. People know we can get stuff done. But often in meetings, you’re there talking to people who want to do something that’s never been done before. It’s usually very ambitious. My reaction is: “Yeah, let’s try and solve this, let’s try and do it.” But we have to be honest, and explain that what we’re trying to tackle is something very new. At the back of my mind I’m thinking that as soon as I get out of the meeting I’m going to be calling around and asking people if they know any iPad developers, or some sort of niche programmer, or whatever.
INT: So how much of the work you produce started out as a test, or as some sort of in-house experiment, before going on to become an actual project?
MP: Originally, we did work that wasn’t particularly exciting. The bread-and-butter stuff, the sort that helps pay the bills. But now we tend to get work that is all exciting, and we’re able to turn stuff down that isn’t as interesting. So, in a way, we don’t have so many internal laboratory-type projects because we get to do the laboratory stuff with clients – we’re tending to use them as guinea pigs. It’s an ultimate situation because we get to learn and experiment on the job.
Also, our projects are always informed by the brief. We don’t ignore it, or just go and do our own thing. It’s always a response to something. Rather than the traditional artist, who is faced with a blank canvas or a blank gallery wall and has some kind of big political issue or something that they want to express, I’m far more comfortable responding to a set of problems.
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