Interview with Olivier Zahm, Purple Magazine S/S issue 29 (2018)

Your recent exhibition with Gladstone Gallery is called DE-PIXELATION. What do you mean by “depixelation?”

“De-Pixelation” is the title of my exhibition, it’s the vision, and it’s its mission. My engagement in the problematic of ‘pixelation’ and ‘de-pixelation’ comes from the decision to see and look at the world at it is, and to insist in doing so. I believe that ‘pixelation’, blurring or masking and furthermore censorship or self-censorship, is a growing and insidious issue, also in the social media today. I don’t accept that, under the claim of ‘protecting’ – protecting me, protecting the other – the world is pixelated in my place. I want, I can, I need and I must use my own eyes. Today, more than ever, I need to see everything with my own eyes in the world, and no one can tell me what my eyes should see or not.

Why do you think the world should be “de-pixelated?”

‘De-pixelation’ is the term I use to manifest that Pixels can no longer conceal fake-news, news, facts, opinions or comments. We have definitely entered the post-truth world. Pixelation stands for the form of agreement in this post-truth world. To agree means to face reality, to struggle with, to confront it, to challenge it. To agree means to open the eyes – to agree means to be awake and to pay attention – to agree does not means to approve! But I must – as an artist, who wants to give form – agree with the world I am living in. To do a work of art, today, is only possible in contact with complexity, in contact with reality, in contact with incommensurablity, in contact with the time I am living in, and in contact with the world I am part of. Today, more than ever, no one can tell me what is of importance – or not of importance – to me, what is to see – and what is not to see – for me. ‘De-pixelation’ is dynamic, a movement, an action, “de-pixelation” it is nothing static, fixed, or frozen.

What would this world look like?

Beautiful. Beautiful, because it will be the One World, the Unique World, the Only World, the Common World.

You say “pixelation, blurring, or masking, and furthermore censorship or self-censorship, is a growing and insidious issue, also in the social media today”. You also say that you don’t accept pixelation under the claim of protection -” protecting me, protecting the other.” What do you think this new digital censorship is actually controlling, under the claim of protecting us?

The quote “Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war” of the former us-secretary of state Donald Rumsfeld shows us how censorship – under the claim of protection – wants to neutralize my awakeness, my attention, my sensitivity. Here, it is necessary to distinguish ‘sensitivity’, which to me means being awake and attentive, from ‘hypersensitivity’, which means self-protection, self-enclosure, and exclusion. On the contrary, I need to confront reality without ‘hypersensitivity’, without distanciation, without self-protection. Today, the aim of censorship, the aim of control, the aim of the algorithms is to own every possible datas about each of us in order to make us better consumers and less resistants to consumption.

Is it possible to look at the World as it is?

It is an absolute necessity, and it’s the mission of art. Nothing is un-showable, nothing is not to see. The only thing which cannot be shown is what has no form. Everything in our world that is Form is showable and viewable, even when incommensurable. Usually pixels stand for ‘the worse is concealed’. It means that by pixelating a picture or a part of a picture there are commensurable and incommensurable parts of the picture pointed out. But to me nothing is ‘commensurable’ or ‘non-commensurable’ and no one can – for me – make a choice what should be commensurable or not to me. Everything is important, everything can have its importance, nothing is unimportant.

In what sense did we “definitely enter the post-truth world?”

We entered – I entered – into the “post-truth world” because no more information, no more fact, no more opinion, no more comment, no more photograph, no more picture, no more caption, no more explanation can be taken – today – for granted. To know it, to agree with it -not by approving everything – means to enter in the post-truth world. Beyond this, I do know that Truth appears beyond concealment, non-information or counter-information. I need to invent a form for this agreement. I want to insist heavily on what makes me work in urgency, in a rush and with necessity: The world has to be ‘de-pixelated’.

Shouldn’t we still fight for the truth?

It is necessary to make a difference between ‘the Truth’ and ‘Truth’. I am interested in ‘Truth’, I am interested in Truth as such, I am interested in Art as Truth. In contrary ‘the Truth’ as the verification of a fact does not interest me. Art does affirm Truth. Art asserts Truth by form, each form – if it’s really form – is Truth. Truth is not the verifiable conclusion or the true information. Something ‘wrong’ can be truth, something ‘right’ can be only a verified fact.  Belief in Truth as such is something essential. Therefore I place Truth at the same level as Universality, Equality and Justice.

How do you redefine your idea of abstraction today?

I am interested in pixelation because its logic leads to abstraction as a paradox. In and with my work “Pixel-Collage” I want to give a response – through Form – to the question “How can abstraction be understood today?” How can abstraction, through pixelation, engage me in today’s world, time and reality? I think pixels – in their abstraction – build up a new form, opening towards a strong dynamic and a desire of truth. I understand abstraction as thinking, as political thinking. The point is to understand how an existing published picture can become an abstraction. It seems to me that – paradoxically – the authoritarian will to use pixelation in order to hide, to ‘protect’, not show, or not make something visible has, instead, become an invitation or possibility to touch truth. Truth through pixels, through their abstraction and the aesthetic of their abstraction. The thinking and form of the “Pixel-Collage” is the belief in abstraction.

Do you search for a certain aesthetic when you pixelized a journalistic picture of a terrorist attack, by reinforcing the beauty of the pixelated part?

One of my interest in pixelation is its powerful aesthetic. The aesthetical power comes from the opposition between the beauty of the pixelated part, and the beauty of the non-pixelated part. The beauty – not the aesthetics – comes from this non-systematic logic of “Pixel-Collage”. Concerning the pixelation itself, there are so many meanings of pixelation, it’s truly complex, as the growing phenomena of facelessness in pictures today. What interests me specifically about facelessness, is its formal embodiment through pixelation. This “Pixelation” phenomenon, more and more common in the media, shows us that, in order to be authentic, a picture needs to be pixelated or partly pixelated. Pixelating has taken over the role of authenticity. A pixelated picture is surely authentic if it has unacceptable areas which are concealed while the acceptable is not pixelated. It is interesting to observe that the use of pixels follows no common law at all. Partly pixelated pictures look even more authentic and are accepted as such by viewers. It therefore seems clear that pixels stand for authentication: Authentication through authority. Pixels deliver – paradoxally – an aesthetic to this demand for authority, for protection and for de-responsibilization.

Is art still a grand gesture of emancipation?

Yes. It’s the one, at least to me. I am doing art because I love making it. I love to work, I love working in an enthusiastic and self-inventing dynamic. Making art is a headless manifestation of love, love as a movement, a conviction, and a passion. This love is not selfish, narcissistic or self-satisfying but is my mode of emancipation.  Art makes me stand up, makes me use my physical and intellectual ability, and apply my tenacity. Thanks to art I must – and can – confront my very own reality to the surrounding reality. Making artwork makes sense, and I understand it as a mission, a mission to accomplish – beyond success or failure. Doing artwork is not an escape or a dream. If my work is intense, charged and dense, it has a chance of making a breakthrough, a breach in today’s dilemma, problematic, cul-de-sac and no-exit, and in the deadlock of resignation and cynicism. Art enables me to assert and give a form to my own logic in a movement of self-authorization. Therefore art is an emancipatory act and as such, a necessity to me.

When you say, “Form is not just an idea, Form is the core,” what do you mean? Is Form a tool or a weapon, for you?

To give Form is essential. I think Form is the most important question in art, it is essential because it questions: How can I take a position? How can I give this position a form? And how can this form create a Truth? A universal Truth? The problem is to give a form, my own form, something belonging to me only, something only I see and understand as such, and something only I can give. I want to do an artwork in exaggeration and preciseness, a work which, in its charge and density, stands for a new form. To give Form is decisive. I use the term ‘giving Form’ because it means ‘giving from my own’, giving Form is not making a form or ‘doing’ a form. Therefore I invented my ‘Form- and Force-field’. My Form- and Force-field includes the notions of Love, Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics.  I always want to embrace these four notions in and within my work – also with the “Pixel-Collage”. Therefore ‘Aesthetics’ is only a part of Form, as ‘Philosophy’, as ‘Politics’, and as ‘Love’. The core is, was always and will be for ever: Form.

How can we confront, without fear, the world today: its chaos, its violence, its loss of rationality, and its tendency toward the apocalyptic?

In working, in working hard, in working very hard! Of course I can only speak for myself: Working – as an artist – means understanding art as a tool, an instrument or a weapon. I understand art as a tool to confront reality. Art is a tool to resist today’s facts, actuality, opinion, meaning, information and ‘dictatorship of commentaries’. Art is a tool to keep the concentration focused on what counts to me, on what is essential, on Form. Therefore the tool ‘art’ can develop my commitment, passion, curiosity, inventiveness and pleasure, to remain always working.