on the post-digital aesthetic
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
portrait by SIMON DI PRINCIPE
OLIVIER ZAHM — When did you start your digital magazine POSTmatter?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — We started it three years ago, when the iPad came out. I’d worked in print for the first 10 years of my career, as the art director of Dazed & Confused for about five years, and then at Vogue Hommes Japan for a couple of years. This involved constant back and forth between Tokyo and London, and I started having a lot of ideas about how to make the publishing and magazine experience evolve to become more interactive, responsive, and playful.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I remember the first edition of POSTmatter, where you could touch an image and the fashion story became an abstract 3D silhouette. That was totally new.
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Yes, those “modules,” as I like to call them, are still a great example of what we do. It was a couple of years ago, but it still feels incredibly fresh and people still don’t understand it fully or know what to make of it, because it just doesn’t fit into a pre-existing tradition or medium. If anything, that piece would have been more successful in a gallery, as an art piece, and that’s what we’re working toward now. By using a famous model and Comme des Garçons clothes, it was automatically pigeonholed into a classic fashion-shoot or fashion-film category. But then the interactive aspect, and the wireframe and abstracted elements came through as soon as you started interacting with it. It’s multi-sensory fashion. But what does that mean? We don’t know. What’s it used for? We don’t know. It was an experiment. I wasn’t hoping to set a template for anything. I did it in a very candid and free way.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I suppose that’s why you have a reputation for being an innovative art director.
RÉMI PARINGAUX — I suppose. On top of that, my aesthetic and the aesthetic of POSTmatter are very futuristic. I often reuse and reinterpret images from science fiction in my work. It’s kind of a personal mission.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In your graphic design?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Yes, even when I was doing print magazines I was making them incredibly modern and futuristic. I try to apply this style when I work with clients, too, whether it’s in print, digital, or film. I really believe that the next big aesthetic is actually the digital aesthetic. I don’t just mean things that are seen through a screen. It’s a digital aesthetic with a style of its own, one that reuses sets of codes from science-fiction movies or futuristic architecture or experimental art, and especially that derives from the fact that they are created with digital devices. The Bart Hess collaboration showed this, how physical image-making and identity are being reformulated by post-digital brains.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like a David Sherry picture, which infuses artificial color on a landscape image?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Yes, of course, and so much more. Look at the car industry and the cars that are coming out today, like the new BMWi. They look more like spaceships than automobiles. In architecture, some of the buildings by Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas look straight out of a Kubrick film. A couple of years ago, that would have never gone over. Now it’s celebrated. I think it’s coming in fashion as well and in a big way. Key designers have been pushing an aesthetic toward digital science, and I think it’s seeping into the mainstream. Take Gareth Pugh. He’s one of the strong pioneers in a very extreme way. More approachable are Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière, and the imagery they were putting together with photographer Steven Meisel, which was always incredibly futuristic. For the Fall/Winter 2013 Chanel campaign, Karl Lagerfeld shot girls floating in a spaceship, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. So it’s starting, and a lot of designers are going to rally behind it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is science fiction your mental universe?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — I grew up with it. I’m a ’90s kid, so I grew up with cheap sci-fi films, Japanese science-orientated manga books like Akira, and other dystopian futuristic stories. That’s always fascinated me and it governs my personal taste. I use any opportunity to push a client or a photographer or image-maker in that direction.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it possible to combine science and technology with creativity in general?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Yes, but I just see science as part of art and culture. So we look at a choreographer using projection mapping in his performance at the San Francisco Ballet, or we look at a fashion designer who uses 3D modeling and printing, or a sculptor who works with code. When you take really cutting-edge technology and combine it with art, amazing things happen. There’s this prejudice that technology and science are the opposite of creativity, but that is totally not true anymore — and it never was true, actually. We want to make a platform for these voices that cross disciplines and don’t quite fit anywhere. We’ve started an interview section on the website, for example, which has already been incredibly successful and is becoming one of the main drivers of POSTmatter, and we’ll keep curating it over time so you have this archive of really compelling conversations. We have a simple video format that basically creates chapters for the interview, allowing users to interact and get a response in real time. That’s one of the things we try to do differently.
OLIVIER ZAHM — With POST you’ve created a place for experimentation and an emerging digital aesthetic. Where do you take it from there?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — It evolves all the time. It’s not tangible. It’s not weighed down by a physical format. POSTmatter’s purpose is to stay close to technology and to reinvent itself every time there’s a new platform or a shift in media.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And to push people like me who are still more, you know… outside of technology.
RÉMI PARINGAUX — We aren’t discrediting anything done before. POSTmatter is its own thing, it’s not saying anything has ended. It’s just asking what comes next.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But still today, the visual aspect of a fashion magazine is more effective on paper, isn’t it?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — It depends. In digital you definitely lose the narrative, the linear order of a print magazine, which tells a story from cover to cover. In digital you find yourself in a multi-narrative storytelling environment. It can be confusing, so it’s more of a challenge to preserve the pace and flow of a story. I think that’s why so many people choose to tell stories with the medium of film, because it forces this linear narrative. There are different ways to approach online publishing, but so long as people try to adapt the medium of print to a digital platform, it’s not going to work. The whole experience has to be rethought, and you have to embrace the medium’s possibilities. For me that was the exciting challenge: managing to shift image creation from ink on paper to pixels on a screen in a meaningful way. And to give this process of dematerialization a real purpose and added value, especially if the final output of the image would be on touchscreens. The fact that they react to user input is obviously something completely alien to print. Media that allow users to interact with a tactile motion or gesture — like in a video game, where pushing the joystick forward takes the person forward — a lot of people saw going from print to digital as a restriction of what they were able to say or show, which may be true if you’re simply translating print to digital. But if you rethink it all from the digital experience, there’s huge freedom.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you see the future of media as purely digital?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Not at all. This is a super-important point for POSTmatter. We were made possible by the digital moment and the revolution in content that comes with tablets. But the concept of having the prefix “POST” is a question rather than an answer. We’re not saying digital comes after print, but we’re asking what happens after digital is no longer a separate thing to be sectioned off. The digital world is already so enmeshed in our lives, but in 5, 10, 15 years, this is going to be taken to another level. The virtual and the real aren’t going to be these two separate spheres; they’re going to intermingle to the point that “digital” disappears from view. So our question is, what does media look like here? What does creativity look like, and art, and design, and music, and fashion? This is the concept of POSTmatter; it’s not about screen versus print. We launched a beta version of the website this year, which will develop a lot in 2014, and we have plans to spread the brand into completely new areas. For example, we’re launching a POSTmatter exhibition in Milan early next year.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What will the exhibition include?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — It essentially takes the interactive work, the coding and modules that we pioneered with the iPad editions, to an architectural scale. I don’t want to say too much about it yet as we’re still finalizing sponsors and partners, but we’re looking at huge digital artworks that morph and adapt as people move around the gallery space. We’re using technology like Kinect and Leap Motion, but in ways that you’ve definitely never seen before. It’s going to really blur the lines between fashion, film, performance, and art. It has also provided us an amazing platform to collaborate with leading digital artists and performance artists, which is what we set out to do. We don’t just want to cover and write about things; we want to commission them and drive things forward, too. Our approach to media production is a lot more active than passive.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What kind of things do you look for in your collaborations?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — It’s about finding people who already have a synergy with what we do, which is partly about this post-digital aesthetic and partly about a desire to mix things up a bit. A good example was a recent project that we did with the artist and designer Bart Hess, whose work is all about identity and bodily transformations. We approached him to do something with us, and it just happened that he was starting work on this piece called Digital Artefacts. He was basically using wax in water to encase the human body and create these insane ripples that looked like a cross between Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen, and something out of a Ridley Scott nightmare. These garments became echoes of the models’ movement through water and so were a kind of performance artifact, too. The whole concept was playing with ideas of the body in a new post-digital, synthetic age, showing how our identities are morphing and changing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you also use photography for POSTmatter, or is it all about moving image?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Yes, we use photography, but online video is the new photography for me. Everything has to move, to be hyper-real, to be in motion, because people have such short attention spans, so you need to keep them immersed in an experience and excited and challenged at every second. Sometimes even a fast-edited film is not enough to retain people’s attention. That’s why we were so attracted to the tablet, because you have peoples’ fingers touching the screen. They’re literally plugged-in and involved in the actual experience with a physical connection. If you have that — if you touch them on the audio, visual, and tactile levels, where the touching can modify the content — out of your five senses, three are involved in an experience. You can’t hear a magazine article, and you can only touch the paper; you can never affect its shape and form unless you crumple it up and throw it away. There are some benefits to that form of media, of course, and I’m from a print background and love print, but it can’t end there. I’m not saying that there could never be a POSTmatter print version; it’s something we talk about a lot actually, but it will only be part of a bigger picture that takes in live events, talks, exhibitions, tablets, and the Web. The focus always has to be on pushing boundaries, though.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s always the question of the business model for digital publications, and it hasn’t been completely cracked yet. Traditional advertising is still more lucrative in print, but are there bigger opportunities through more imaginative links to areas like e-commerce?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Absolutely. It’s been massively exploited outside the fashion industry, but even in fashion, everyone’s bought something online. I personally buy everything online. What’s interesting is the ability to look at aspirational imagery, at an advertisement, at an editorial image, a celebrity image, and straight from there, touch that image — or video — and purchase the product. That’s going to govern things from now into the future. I mean it kind of is already. But I do agree with you that digital advertising still has not found the perfect formula.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Isn’t the impulse to buy more often created by magazines than advertisements?
RÉMI PARINGAUX — Perhaps in the sense that people are more influenced by editorial than by ads. In fashion, people look for a point of view, an angle. That’s why fashion editors, fashion photographers, and magazines are so powerful. When you see an ad for a brand, it looks great and sexy. But reading about it makes it much more approachable. So many brands these days want “branded content,” by which they mean editorial output linked to their product. It’s like a hugely exploded version of the advertorial. This is slowly becoming the dominant format of advertising, online and offline, blurring the lines even further between a genuine and a purchased opinion.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Five years ago, as an editor, I was a bit scared. I thought the evolution and the future of magazines would shift to the Internet. I don’t think so anymore. Magazines like Acne Paper, for example, become real cultural places or platforms that delve into the past and can actually be free of the commercial world, which is now more on the Internet. I have the feeling that the new generation believes that magazines are one of the last bastions of integrity.
RÉMI PARINGAUX — In some ways, yes. I respect magazines in the way I respect a book. I would never throw a magazine away. They’re a kind of recollection of what was good enough to be printed at a certain time and place. With the incredible plurality of things online, people like to take a break and just spend time with something that’s been beautifully made. So we’re seeing these beautiful magazines coming out, which look and feel much more like coffee table books that are crafted, edited, and art-directed. They are real objects with a purpose for existing, very much like Purple or Paradis. Other magazines, like Grazia, for instance, really don’t have much justification to exist in print. I think they could deliver their content and experience much better on a mobile digital platform. But this whole industry is being purposely maintained in print to suit the agenda of a few big publishers.
OLIVIER ZAHM — People don’t flip on a screen like they flip through paper though. That may change because of tablets, but we haven’t seen that yet.
RÉMI PARINGAUX — It’s a revolution that’s shaping new cultural habits and is having a profound effect on publishing, on society, and on how people behave. It’s really a huge psychological shift that’s reformulating how young people think about and approach the world. We’ve all seen YouTube videos of kids trying to swipe cupboard doors open like they’re on a tablet and of children who are using iPhones before than they can talk. It’s a different kind of human relationship to the world. It’s not quite there yet, of course, and there are still a lot of people — influential people — who aren’t on board with this vision.
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