When contemplating the work of Hvass & Hannibal, it’s difficult to tell where Hvass ends and Hannibal starts. Danish designers and visual artists Nan Na Hvass and Sofie Hannibal have known each other since high school. Both of them gained a BA in graphic communications (graduating in 2007 and 2008 respectively) and intend to follow up with an MA, but since setting up in 2006 they have been rather too occupied.
They have kept busy with a mix of commissioned and self-initiated projects, with clients ranging from record companies to brands such as Adidas.
‘We go to work and sit across from each other every day. We spend more time together than we do with our boyfriends,’ says Hvass. ‘We’re quite similar in our influences and have a lot of the same preferences in food, art or whatever.’ On big projects, their input is usually equal, as they ping work back and forth between them, adding and refining as they go along. ‘We can definitely tell one’s work from the other’s, but in some projects our work becomes so intertwined that it’s a bit harder,’ says Hannibal.
Mostly, the two are very much in tune with each other, but once in a while they don’t immediately understand each other’s ideas, admits Hannibal. ‘That can be frustrating, but it’s a good thing about working so closely with another person – we have to agree before we can move on,’ she says.
As a whole, their portfolio of album covers, installations and murals is a distinctive collection of colourful, eye-popping exuberance. Psychedelic geometric shapes and folkloric worlds populate their canvases. While they initially made a name for themselves in digital illustration, they have become increasingly keen to work in various media, dabbling with screen-printing, paint, wood and even stage and costume design.
The duo is currently putting together an exhibition, which opens next week at London’s Kemistry Gallery. Inspired by the collation and sorting of random data sources – from probability theory to landscape mapping and the registration of natural phenomena – Hvass & Hannibal/ Losing the Plot expresses these through wooden sculptures, hand-benched silkscreen and offset posters. The exhibition’s essence conveys that the process of envisioning information can be used as a tool to come up with a certain type of graphic expression, according to Hannibal and Hvass.
It’s the culmination of six months of personal projects, and work for Danish band Efterklang, with which they have a long-standing relationship. The cover for the new album Magic Chairs, due out in February, is one of Hvass & Hannibal’s biggest and most ambitious projects, which ‘took a lot of our energy the past couple of months’, says Hvass. Most previous covers had been illustrative, but this time Hvass and Hannibal wanted something photographical. The project involved a location shoot, with 20 gymnasts throwing hand-sewn and hand-dyed ribbons, delivering a surrealist tableau.
Hvass acknowledges that all their work shares a certain aesthetic, but is reluctant to call it a style. ‘We don’t think we want to do something in a specific style,’ she says. ‘It’s very intuitive. We think about what material or media we want to use and then the results happen to have a certain resemblance or the same kind of vibe. I see it as a good thing.’ ‘We are very driven by aesthetics and colours,’ adds Hannibal. ‘But we always start with figuring out what we’re working with and how to translate it visually.’
There is no political or ideological drive behind their work, which can be hard, explains Hvass. ‘But it feels right,’ she says. ‘We want to give people a visual experience rather than convey a certain message, but we are interested in how people extract different meanings from our work.’
Hvass and Hannibal never really had a business plan, but have continued to evolve. Both are keen to strike the right balance between commercial and personal work and to continue combining illustration with more conceptual, 3D projects. Beyond that, that MA still beckons, of course, and Hvass muses, ‘Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll have a big house in Copenhagen with a studio and shop in the bottom.’
Hvass & Hannibal: Losing the Plot opens at the Kemistry Gallery, 43 Charlotte Road, London EC2 on 15 January