Malte Rauch: P1xelfool, you’re based in São Paulo and I would like to begin the interview by asking how you experienced the tense political situation of the last months?
P1xelfool: We are at one of those moments where the left and right are fighting. The pattern is very similar to the US — populism, fake news, divisiveness. The future of democracy is delicate right now, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed. My work helps me to get some distance. But given how much is at stake, it’s also quite important to participate and comment on current developments. My work is highly concerned with screens and the Internet. And so I think it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the role of the media and the Internet in this whole situation.
MR: Your work has a very distinct style and a cohesive visual vocabulary. How did this develop and what are the main influences?
P: I have been doing creative work for the last 18 years or so. Throughout this time, I have experimented with many different mediums.
There were moments when I played with the idea of becoming a painter or even a photographer, but I think what made me settle on this particular aesthetic is the fact that I am constantly thinking about the presence of screens and devices in our lives.
We are spending more time with screens every day, and I wanted to explore our attraction to them in my artistic practice. The largest part of human history has been spent in natural environments. Now, technology has become as important as nature, maybe even more so. If you observe people walking through natural environments, it’s quite evident that they experience them predominantly through the lens of technology. This raises very intriguing questions for me: what is our aesthetic relationship to screens? Why are we drawn to them so irresistibly?
MR: Why are humans so attracted to screens and what does art do for this relationship?
P: If you reflect on it, it is very hard to understand this phenomenon. Our attraction to screens indicates a broad cultural shift that we have only begun to comprehend. Byung-Chul Han has an interesting theory about the flatness of screens, through which we increasingly perceive reality. To him, this development shields us from the world, leading to a completely disembodied and disenchanted vision of reality. In art, it cuts off the sensual and embodied element, which he calls “the erotic”. There is a lot of truth in this criticism. But there is also a side of screens and computation that is “erotic” in this sense. Of course, there are elements of screen-based culture that make people passive and addicted. That’s undeniable.
The hope of my work is that we can use these devices in a way that isn’t extractivist or instrumental. There is a relationship to screens that is an embodied and sensuous experience. This is what art can hopefully achieve.
MR: How would you describe your relationship to early computer graphics? Is the pixel grid your medium?
P: Yes, I certainly understand pixels as the medium of my art. But I am also very passionate about how machines work.
I feel that the simpler the device, and the more pixelated the screen, the closer I am to the machine.
As a kid, I always liked the idea of playing with electronics. I would open devices and play around with the hardware. The rawness of these machines is what attracted me. Working with low resolution devices or low density pixel compositions brings me back to this early technology — to its constraints and its raw materiality. Of course, the proximity to early computer graphics can trigger a nostalgic feeling. But I am not concerned with nostalgia. Rather, I am focused on the rawness and immediacy of these machines. It feels like a more direct connection between hardware and software. Now, we have screens and graphic processors that abstract this rawness away; it is hidden by the complexity of the devices.
MR: You have a unique style that is very pleasing to the eye. But you also deal with complex themes like perception, the experience of time, and our attraction to screens. Is this “layering” intentional?
P: My work as “p1xelfool” is a very recent project. Prior to that, I had been reflecting on some of these themes in different ways. I realized that I needed to make the work accessible in order to make it relevant. For me, it’s not interesting to engage with these themes on a conceptual level that is only accessible to a small audience.
I am interested in breaking through the slick aesthetic of typical screen-based graphics to excavate that heavily pixelated aesthetic.
My works are meant to be accessible and fun to watch. But hopefully they also cause people to reflect on the themes I’ve just mentioned.
MR: How does this approach influence your everyday creative practice?
P: There are phases when I spend a lot of time simply doing research and reflecting on the concepts I am currently interested in. Then there are other times where I completely immerse myself in the art, working away on the code for days on end. Last year, I produced a great variety of pieces. At the moment, however, I try to take time to focus on my projects. And during the last months, I have been completely focused on the project for Bright Moments.
In general, my brain works better at night. So on most days, I don’t wake up very early and I usually start my day by reading. I usually sit down at my computer and dive into my work around noon. The conceptual aspect is really important in my practice, which also comes quite naturally to me and informs what I produce. The concept comes first. After I know that, I start by sketching and generating a lot of outputs. Once I find something that catches my attention, I look into it more closely and try to tweak the code in that direction.
MR: Let’s talk about your work for “NFT ART CDMX”. This is your first project that is designed to be minted IRL. How do you feel about this idea? Does it influence your coding practice?
P: Yes, certainly. Given that my work is so conceptual, it is hard not to think of the set-up. Recently, I began to work with a fairly big screen next to me. That has been particularly helpful for this project because I can regularly check how it looks on a larger screen — which is how it will be exhibited at Prim.
Given that my work is so much about the importance of screens in our lives, I will always have in mind the display on mobile devices. But placing a large screen in a specifically designed environment is a great opportunity to explore our relationship with screens.
The exhibition space will feel a bit like a temple, and the screen will be the mystery that the audience gravitates towards.
MR: What has been the effect of NFTs and blockchain technology on the lives of artists in Latin America?
P: Just by looking at my own story, we can see how empowering it is. I’ve always had an interest in digital art, but I felt completely isolated from the global digital art world. Most of the scene — the events, galleries, and conversations — were based in the US and Europe. I thought that there was no chance that I would ever really be part of it. With crypto, the situation changed completely. For the first time, there was an open community of artists, connected via social media, that grew close. Of course, there is also the financial side. The idea that you can create your work wherever you are and sell it to a global audience is incredibly empowering.
Artists from the Global South have never been in the position to participate in the international art market in this way.
Going forward, I can only see this system expanding. Of course, there are many problems, not only with crypto, but also with the collective dependence on social media. But, by and large, this technical shift has been an amazing vector of empowerment.
P1xelfool is a Brazilian artist who quickly rose to prominence in 2021 for his code-based artworks. His practice renders 3D geometric systems as pixelated 2D animations evocative of scientific diagrams, particle simulations, and otherworldly entities. Mainly released as animated GIFs and real-time code, P1xelfool’s creations are written using Processing, an open-source and community-led software. The artist regards the perception of time and space as a starting point for his computational art — more specifically how screens, pixels, and code allow for intersubjectivity. In one of his most recent projects, gämma, curated by Kerry Doran, the artist focused specifically on the perceptual limits of the screen, and of code as light. The artist is also known for his community-driven initiatives such as BRG.exe, a foundation investing and supporting Brazilian generative and digital artists.