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To Infinity and Beyond

Interview by Sasha Bogojev // Portrait by The Artist 

When 8-bit technology was first introduced back in the 1970s, it shaped not only the future of computers, but affected countless other aspects of human creativity, from digital music to the net art movement. The bits and pixels quickly disappeared from computer processors and screens and morphed into different forms around us. And for one Frenchman in particular, this moment was life changing. Inspired by 8-bit games from the ’80s, (Space) Invader started re-creating simple, pixelated characters and placing them on facades around Paris. Touting not only their aesthetics but the entire gaming philosophy, he started collecting points and completing levels through an actual world invasion that has continued, unabated, for the last 20 years.

Looking now, it seems that by introducing digital imagery to everyday physical environments, Invader created a bit of a glitch in the matrix, especially the art world matrix. After leaving his mark on the ocean floor as well as in outer space, 3,437 mosaics and 69 invaded cities later, Invader’s work is being shown in museums worldwide and is worshipped by an army of followers, fans and high-end art collectors. Only recently has he started painting on paper and canvas. This curious case of artistic development is the direct result of his unprecedented approach and practice, only confirming how unprepared the world was for an invasion of such proportion.

On January 2017, Invader opened Hello My Game Is...  at Musée en Herbe, a Parisian landmark with a unique approach to art, based on play and humor, adapted to all ages. With this exhibition, Invader turned the space into his personal playground, inviting young visitors and their parents to celebrate childhood and regale themselves within the artist's universe through arcade games, an interactive world map, Rubik's cubes, and a wall of magnets, all made of over a hundred original works.

Invader: To Infinity and Beyond

Sasha Bogojev: How did your recent show at Musée en Herbe come to life?
Invader: Simply—they invited me, and I said yes. I liked the idea of invading the minds of a generation of children who would discover my work through this show, the same way that I invade physical territories.

How do you like the way kids are embracing the show? Did you go and see them in action yourself?
Yes, I saw them, because nearly every morning, there are classroom visits. It is just amazing. The rooms are full of children sitting on the floor and carefully listening to the guides, who know how to speak to them and make things interesting so they want to participate. I have tried to make this show full of references from the children’s world and culture. Like the big “Rubikcubist” Peter Pan piece and several installations where the children can participate. Everything is hung lower than in a classic museum, so I suggest the adults visit the show on their knees!

How important is the play aspect for you after all these years?
I created this project inspired by a 8-bit videogames, and I have kept that game aspect in my work and vocabulary. I'm doing “invasions,” and giving each piece an amount of points for a score in each city, etc. 

Do you remember what triggered you to start using the 8-bit video games aesthetic as a base for your work? Did you start with tiles straight away, or did that come later?
Back in the 1990s, the first computers were coming to market. One of my friends was a real geek and he made me buy a computer, a Macintosh IIfx. I started to spend all my nights on this machine exploring that new world. I used it as a tool to work on Photoshop 2.0. Little by little, this digital aesthetic became familiar to me, and I wanted to use it in my art. I made a series of prints and paintings representing pixels, and then began to use tiles. 

How important is it for you to know that people enjoy discovering your work?
I guess an artist will always appreciate when people come across his work and enjoy it. Until a certain point...

What point would that be?
When you lose your soul and your identity because you just want to please a huge public. That’s when you might not recognize your own art.

When they decide to try and take it home with them? How do you feel about your work getting ripped off the streets?
That is another story. I'm always surprised and sad to see a piece of mine half ripped off by someone who tried to take it home. My street art is not only the mosaic itself—it works thanks to the spot. If you take it away from its location, it becomes regular tiles that you can find anywhere.  

Some of the players on FlashInvaders, the cellphone app I created two years ago, are “reactivating” a few of my ripped off pieces. And those greedy thieves that tried to take down the artworks reactivated them to put them on eBay. I didn’t even touched those particular tiles. It’s ridiculous! It’s a fool’s market!

What keeps you motivated to keep creating positive works? Have you ever created any dark or negative aliases or pieces?Weird question... I thought everything was black or white. Good or evil is only in Star Wars movies!

Fair enough. I meant that your work comes across as very playful. Were you ever interested in creating something that is maybe more serious, like a social commentary, political engagement or provocation?
If you look carefully at my corpus of work, you'll find out some things which could hardly be described as very playful and light. The point is that I like to play on the contrast effects. My Bad Men series or the piece with the Twin Towers on fire, for example, they are both made of colorful toys, Rubik's cubes. When I'm doing my street invasions, I most definitely feel like an outlaw, and believe me, I'm not always welcomed! Doing some playful artwork from funny subjects is a way to balance the vandal aspect of my work. But you might be right, I could be more radical and political in my art. I guess that’s something I keep for my private life. 

Invader: To Infinity and Beyond

How would you compare the challenges of invading a new city versus preparing a major museum show?
I probably shouldn’t reveal this, but invading a new city is always more exciting for me than working on a new show. But the comparison is good anyway because, at the end of the day, it is more or less the same amount of work. That is why I don't do so many shows. I want to continue invading the streets of the world.

Which part of invading a city makes it so interesting, so special for you? Is it the rush of doing something illegal, adding a new city to the list, or something else? 
As corny as it sounds, it is the freedom to keep on writing my own story, to do what I want to, where I want to. I want to discover new cities and landscapes and leave them with my artworks for everybody to see and enjoy. 

Invader: To Infinity and Beyond

What is the current body of work that you're working on?
I always have something new happening in my studio. These past few years, I have made many drawings on paper. I'd like to work on canvas one day; mosaic and tiles are sometimes a nightmare because they are very heavy.

Right, I don't recall seeing a work on canvas from you. Have you ever made one?
No, I guess because I was focused on mosaic tiles, and like a famous artist from the fifteenth century, Domenico Ghirlandaio, said, “Mosaic is painting for eternity!”

Invader’s new exhibition, Hello My Game Is… is on view at Musée en Herbe in Paris through September 3, 2017.