Currently reading : Peter De Potter
Peter De Potter is an image machine; ‘making images with images’ by reappropriating and recontextualising both those found and created by himself, sloganising each with graphic typography. From selection put together for a guest curation of fashion platform SHOWstudio, emblazoning each image shared with the words “THANK GOD” “everything must go’ coveiring the images of battered and bruised faces and urinating skinheads to Redux, a book by Potter and Raf Simons for the designer’s 10th anniversary, his work is defined by a varied but deeply directional accumulation of words and imagery. Now, using social media sites, his work is exhibited online; from his Tumblr-hosted website to angelic-starts and routine-routine, each blog existing as its own, self-contained exhibition, almost a kick in the teeth of the institutional theory of art. The artist talked to Sang Bleu about his work.
Can you talk me through the process of re-appropriating the imagery you use? and the significance of this process to you over creating entirely new work.
Appropriation, at least in the art world, used to be a statement but nowadays it’s a technique, as valuable as any other. A whole new generation of creative minds, you know, bloggers and computer artists, are appropriating without even knowing the academic term. It’s just another notion in the post-pop art world. Images are object-like things you can work with, that kind of thinking. To be perfectly honest: I think the whole appropriation-versus-originality debate is completely out of date, it surprises me it’s still going on. Maybe it’s because the emphasis is still on this idea of unique handicraft, I don’t know. I think that making a screenshot is a totally valid form of photography anyway, so it all comes down to the same process. The only thing that matters to me is the end result. The less technique you can discern in a finished work, the more room it leaves for the real purpose. The real purpose of course being communication with the viewer.
Perhaps an obvious question but why do you choose to share your work on the Internet rather than through the traditional institutional routes?
I show my work on the internet because it’s the most obvious and normal thing to do for anyone living today. People share their thoughts and lives and loves on the internet, so in that sense it’s resourceful even for an artist to show his or her work online. At the moment I particularly like Tumblr because it’s still uncensored and generous. On the other hand it’s a sad sign of the times that I have to put ‘still’ before the word ‘uncensored’. The internet might be a thing produced and kept alive by machines, overall it’s the biggest concept of the last few centuries.It’s a sad thing that people feel the urge to set out their own temporary moral standards on this huge beast that’s going to survive all of us and further generations to come.
I think I love the internet in an even more radical way than others because I lived half of my life without its existence. The internet shows life like looking through a keyhole, things seem framed and distant, yet appealingly close and beautiful, to the point where we seem to forget that every utterance, every image, every action, every blip and hiss was once produced by an actual living person at some point in time and place. The internet shows – in the most literal sense- the world in the process of being alive. It’s a tremendous insight, one that our brains really aren’t adjusted to yet, I’m so sure of that. Every day, on a subconscious level, we’re still coming to terms with the phenomena of the internet. We all act like we’re very much accustomed to it, and our hands and eyes are, but our minds are still in a lulled state of shock. I’m sure that the next century will look back and label us the guinea pigs of the internet age.
An artist should work with whatever is the most close to him. I feel very strongly about that. And I also mean that in the most basic sense: working with whatever surrounds him. Just like the cavemen probably made ornaments or spiritual totems out of stones and twigs, so the artist gathers the most commonly available materials to work with. In my case that’s the internet. I never think about it twice.
And why specifically socially lead sites like tumblr?
The advent of social network sites was a true watershed for me. All of a sudden there was this avalanche of new, unfiltered imagery to look at, to indulge in, to work around with. Some observers look down on social network photography, claiming it’s ‘not artistic’ but that’s missing the point entirely. It’s not people’s job to make artistic things. That’s something for an artist to do.
As an artist, I’ve only been in a few exhibitions. I’m not picked up by a gallery. I guess I’m not familiar with the more traditional intstitutional routes because I don’t come from them. My itinerary has been different. Or maybe it’s because I was picked up by a different network. I’m not represented in the art market but my work is featured on thousands and thousands of personal internet pages. I think that’s tremendously exciting.
How would you say presenting your work in this way has affected its reach?
It’s totally unpredictable, which is both a beautiful as well as a frustrating aspect about the internet. But I’ve come to realize that the fact that my images are being spread around and shared and appreciated is no mean feat. The images are just there, hovering and silent, and still they get picked up. They’re not boosted by a gallery or some PR ploy, they’re not feeding off my personal aura because I’m not famous in the least. So the work itself must be doing something right.
The work spans a number of different platforms, from your main website, your curated tumblr blogs, routine routine and angelic starts, to video work; how do you view these collections of work as one and how do you differentiate them in your approach?
Since it’s all shooting from my own mind I honestly can’t differentiate. It’s true that all of those are distinct and different platforms but the essence of the work stays the same. It’s most to do with creating a context for a work to get to the heart and mind of the viewer as directly and immediate as possible. A framed piece on the wall communciates differently than an internet post or a moving image. It’s a very exciting thing to discover that. I approach my framed pieces in a more sculptural way than the internet ones. There’s more sense of material and dimensions.
You previously worked in print, working early on with Raf Simons, do you approach your work differently knowing it’s going to be presented digitally?
I think that an image should work in any kind of circumstance because the intent and the message and the feeling should always prevail. I loved the way Raf used my work on his clothes and his visual merchandise, he did it in a way that made sense both to him and myself. You know, a page in a magazine or the fabric of a t-shirt, they’re both carrying the image, framing it, championing it. If anything, a digital image is the least hindered by context. It’s more open-ended. People can only guess when, how or why it was made. But it also has the most impact, because people no longer buy that [many] magazines anymore nor do they use their clothes and t-shirts as billboards to display their sympathies or convictions. People express themselves online now. Images have become the perfect tools to do so, more than ever before.
Language, particularly text, features heavily in your work – what significance do you place on being able to communicate in a way images alone can’t?
Words and letters and sentences are so commonplace in all of our lives that – again – it’s such a normal thing to use them in an art work. I have the impression that a certain part of the art world has real difficulties with words, to the extent that there are special sections and exhibitions for artists that ‘do’ text. I mean, you have to find that funny, no? Personally I think I’ve toned down with words and slogans! Years ago my work was flooded with words. It’s gotten less so. Titles are still very important though, especially for the framed pieces.
You call yourself a moral artist, what does that entail? What element of your work is concerned with morality?
I’m not talking about morality in a didactic way. Morality is not the starting point. Because when it would be, my work would be one big pamphlet. But we shouldn’t deny the fact there’s always a moral side to an image, any kind of image, whether we care to pick up on it or not. Any image is ethically subjective, however subtle or unaware. My work is a lot about conflict and tension – the fact that I use a lot of collage techniques only enhances that. I’m not subscribing to the notion that we’re all tortured souls. Far from it. But conflict is completely inherent to life, to nature. To the most important emotions we have, desire and lust or empathy and altruism, there’s an aspect of moral choice hidden within. And with choice comes conflict. In a lot of my images there’s conflict being played out. But in such a way that you get the feeling it’s ok, or that’s it going to be, well…ok.