Photos courtesy Daily VICE
Working under the name Carnovsky, the Milan-based design duo of Francesco Rugi and Silvia Quintanilla have, for the past half-decade, been converting all types of spaces into mutating colour-blasted visual panoramas packed with mysterious images that appear and disappear when the artwork is bathed in different types of light. Their ongoing RGB series (which stands for the colours red, green, and blue, with which they work) of primarily massive murals featuring everything from human anatomy to collections of animals and fish to lush landscapes have been installed in galleries, bars, restaurants—even bathrooms—all over the world.
When you first encounter a large-scale RGB installation—an entire wall of swirling colours layered on top of each other in a way that both obscures and reveals the images contained within—it's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information entering your eyeballs. Your mind struggles to make sense of the images, picking out a stray elephant here or two types of forests intermingling over there, as all three layers can be seen when the work is bathed in white light. But when the light switches to red, for instance, a clearly defined scene will appear from out of the visual chaos, which makes you reconsider everything you were just looking at. All of which can either be entirely compelling or completely off-putting, depending on your tolerance for tripped-out visual stimulation.
VICE caught up with the duo as they were preparing for their first major North American installation, opening today at Nuvango Gallery in Toronto, to talk about their process, which colours are magical, and what kind effect all these messed up visuals have on people.
Footage courtesy Daily VICE
VICE: You guys have been working on versions of this type of project for quite a while. When did you first show one of these installations?
Francesco Rugi: The first time we presented RGB was in 2010 in Milan, during Milan Design Week, which is this huge fair. Since then we've [translated it] into these projects with different mediums like wallpaper, print...
Silvia Quintanilla: Wallpaper is nice because it gives you an architectural scale. You can be immersed in a place that is changing all the time.
How did you arrive at this idea and this format?
Rugi: It's nothing really that we invented, or that's new. But the way we put it together is kind of new. Before, people used to use red filters...
Quintanilla: ... and the printing was different. Because with red, you hide or see something, and you can do that with physical filters like acetates or coloured lights. [Initially] we were playing with the images to see what was cool, and then in a more serious way when we saw how it was working. So we started to try it with the other colours, the green and the blue. And then with lights [changing to reveal the different layers of images], we really liked the effect. It's more magical when you see it with the filters, because you see one in a static way, but when you have the light changing you have the in-between layers and the moments when you see what isn't there.
What are you trying to communicate with a piece like this?
Quintanilla: I love that it triggers the curiosity. They're so dense that there are some things that you don't perceive in the moment. And also, when it's this big, and you are looking [in one place] you aren't seeing what's going on over there. So I have seen the curiosity—people getting close up to try and figure out what something is. And they really take time to explore it.
What informs the variations on the RGB theme—like when you are working with human anatomy versus animals versus these landscapes?
Rugi: Most of our work is based on natural history, so we try to create a sort of bestiary. Nature is one of our main inspirations.
Quintanilla: For personal interest, we have always been in love with historical images of animals. Most of the time we are talking about the exploration and the discovery of these animals. We like to work with are engravings, because of the texture it gives. It's not a flat surface—[in an RGB piece] it looks like a multicoloured embroidery, something very dense and full of colours. That kind of image really opens when you print it bigger, so that's something we really like a lot.
As many people have noted before, there are psychedelic connotations to these images. Do people come to check out your work on drugs?
Rugi: It was not our intention to be related to psychedelia, because it's not really our interest. But it's obvious to be in a way associated with it.
Maybe a better way of looking at that is: what kinds of effects do you see your work having on people? How do they react when they first see it?
Rugi: It's very emotional sometimes. It seems to move people. Some people don't like it at all.
Quintanilla: Some people find it creepy. It depends on the piece, because we work with three levels of images, the blue one is really difficult to perceive and for us it is the most magical. You really have to go near and discover it actually. We use it in an oeneric way—so we put the insects or the monsters or the horrible things, and some pieces of our work have these strange animals in the blue level. And some people find them to be very creepy. But at one of our installations, there was a bed in the middle of the room, and this couple passed like two hours looking at all the monkeys, like, "Did you see that one?"
So the colours have a hierarchy, or you assign different meanings to the colours?
Quintanilla: Yes. Technically, the three colours don't work the same way—and it was a technical thing that we saw at the very beginning. Instead of seeing that this doesn't work, we used it to give different significance to the image. So with red you see it works in a really sharp way, so we use it as a wide awake state and put things there that are maybe more obvious. WIth the green filter, we use something that structures the images—it's also sharp, but it mixes in with the other two. Instead, the blue one is not that clear so, as I say, in an oeneric or dreamy state.
I was reading an interview with you from back in 2011, where you said you'd only showed like 30 percent of the total amount of work you've done. That what you'd shown was only a small fraction of what you'd created.
Rugi: We actually don't produce so many images in a year. But we work on a lot of material and then decide to use...
Quintanilla: ... or not to use. Because in one image we have three images, so they have to look super good each images because of the change in colours, and then in white. So sometimes we work on the images and they're really look nice, and then when we do the final thing they don't work.
What's the process of putting these images together and experimenting with the different colours?
Rugi: We start maybe with an idea, and then we start to figure out and research and source the images we're going to combine and collage. So, for instance, in this piece, "Landscape #2," there are many different landscapes that are merged together to create the overall landscape.
Quintanilla: The first thing when we started to think about this landscape was the voyage, So in one level we have the romantic European forest, and in another level some more exotic forest, with an elephant and so on. And in the one that is more difficult to see, there is the trips—the travel. So we started talking about the theme and then start working on each one. And then then overlapping the other and coming back to the first one and so on.
How do you know when it's working?
Rugi: It's difficult because you're working on a computer on a screen, which is of course small. And then you print out the samples, but you have to figure out how it looks in a space like this, or at 20 metres. So it's kind of, to go back and forth from the print and then screen, it's hard to know all the details. But generally speaking, because our images are so dense, with lots of info and details, if they work at a small scale, when you enlarge them it's going to work even better.
Quintanilla: But when we start overlapping the images, two may look good together, and then until you do the third one you never know.
Is there an ideal place for the work to be displayed?
Quintanilla: I like big walls. More than the space, we really like spaces that are alive, where there are lots of people around, where they move and talk.
Rugi: Like with this [points to the wall at Nuvango], I like the pipes to keep the wall alive rather than the perfect white box like a museum or something. I prefer a living space, like a bar or something.
Quintanilla: Or a bathroom. There is a bathroom where we did this piece with fishes, and it's a really comfortable space.... We see our work as a sort of skin that can be applied to many many things.
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