Universal Everything: mind-blowing digital art goes physical

If we’re going to spend a lot of time in the metaverse, at least let Matt Pyke of digital art collective Universal Everything design it. Or perhaps more accurately, to be its benign and divine creative force, its carrier of life.

For nearly two decades, Pyke has been experimenting with generative design, giving birth to moving digital creatures. The studio’s digital menagerie really moves, runs, dances, parades and prances with stunning physics. It’s also, unashamedly, delicacies and starters.

all universal, Superconsumers2019, 3 x video and stereo sound. Commissioned by Hyundai LIVART ArtLab

“Lifeforms,” ​​the studio’s new show in underground 180 The Strand, sees 14 of its digital bestiaries in “habitats” designed by Ab Rogers. As Pyke puts it, the show isn’t a huge retrospective – bringing new life to life is just part of what the studio does – but it’s a comprehensive presentation of the various media they work in: video, immersive pieces, interactive pieces, graphic design, architecture. and even lenticulars. And this is in line with the essential mission of Universal Everything.

Pyke is a techno enthusiast and optimist, a champion of cutting-edge technology as a tool for elevation and engineering enchantment. The spectacle’s meticulous renderings of vertical movement, wandering, sprinting, creating forms, and moving matter are the fullest and most compelling expression of this optimism.

all universal, Superconsumers2019, 3 x video and stereo sound. Commissioned by Hyundai LIVART ArtLab

“There’s just something fundamentally human about walking,” says Pyke. “It’s a beautiful, natural and graphic way to represent life. And rather than creating a narrative or a form of storytelling, you have this almost fascinating banality. The fact that these things walk or run forever suggests infinite energy or infinite travel and it’s kind of utopian. As the moving forms of the show – large, hairy, rocky or mineral, liquid or gaseous, vegetal and even architectural – miraculously mutate and recreate themselves, they also discover the defining magic of generative technology and design, its ability to create the new and unique on their own. “We think it’s the seed design,” says Pyke. “As a designer or artist, we define the visual parameters, the range of colors or materials or shapes. And then, within these rules, infinite iterations can be created. It’s our way of creating the limits of the playing field. And then when you press “go”, it generates these shapes that interest and surprise me. It’s like leaving something in nature.

This urge to return life forms has always been a driving force for Pyke. He studied botanical and technical illustration as well as design and typography before spending a decade at Sheffield-based studio The Designers Republic, best known for his work with Warp Records and for his pioneering game packaging, including for the first iteration of Grand Theft Auto.

In 2004 Pyke, still based in Sheffield, went solo and started looking online for interesting 3D animators and programmers. He found them in Germany, San Francisco, Japan and South America and the studio remains an international digital collective with a UK-based team working with over 60 architects, engineers, designers, cinematographers, animators, musicians and developers from all over the world.

all universal, Nature always wins2020, 3 x video and stereo sound

From the outset, Pyke was determined to merge graphic design and the moving image and soon became interested in designing its own creative tools rather than using off-the-shelf design software. “We wanted to create things that didn’t exist and explore the limits of technology,” he says. This surge of experimentation quickly attracted commercial customers, and the roster of Universal Everything brand contributors now includes Apple, Google, Hyundai, IBM, MTV, Samsung, Nike and Chanel.

These business partnerships often grow out of the self-initiated work of the studio and are marked by their longevity and the creative latitude that Universal Everything is given. “We never felt like we had to compromise in any of the collaborations,” Pyke says. “It’s always felt like they’re supporting the studio and it’s been very genuine and authentic.”

The studio has also worked with bands such as Radiohead, Coldplay and Primal Scream and created digital pieces for exhibitions at MoMA, Barbican, Science Museum London and more. And despite constant technical innovation, Pyke’s particular take on generative design is so defined that there’s little clear distinction between commercial and non-commercial work. “It’s just another expression of working with different contexts, audiences and forms,” ​​says Pyke.

all universal, In the sun, 2022, video, body tracking and stereo sound

What emerges from all of the studio’s works, however, is a clear sense of play, in their creation and in the way they are experienced. “I think the playfulness is important,” says Pyke. “You get brand new technology and you just have to play around with it and see what comes out of it.” And gaming, he says, should definitely be part of the viewing experience. “I don’t really like art shows where it’s whispering in a white cube space, I’d much rather have people screaming and running around.”

Despite this focus on play, Pyke and his team aren’t rushing to make every room interactive. Only two pieces of “Lifeforms” are interactive, and he says they’re only interactive for a reason. One of these parts is In the sun, one of the three new works in the exhibition. “We wanted to create a collective experience,” says Pyke. “The screen displays the sun and the plants and they grow in response to the positions and movements of the viewer. And it works with up to four people, so you get this collective experience, you create this kind of plant choreography.

all universal, Autonomous House, 2022, video and stereo sound

Pyke is more interested in going “beyond the loop”, creating pieces where nothing ever repeats itself, “like an improvised jazz concert”. Another new piece Autonomous HousePyke describes as an “automated design system”.

“It’s presented as a kind of catwalk with models captured in motion moving up and down the runway, but the costumes or clothes they’re wearing are generative, endless combinations of shapes and materials. It’s so random that you get those huge models with amazing puffy clothes or thin, chrome spiders. He asks who the designer is because they’re not designed by anyone but code, really.

Like much of the studio’s work, Autonomous House is a dizzying and compelling endless parade that taps into Pyke’s essential optimism about human possibilities. “There’s just this curiosity about what will emerge next from this kind of unknown chance.” §

all universal, machine learning2018, video and stereo sound

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