If the coloured shapes in a Renaissance stained glass window could morph to make their own pictures, what might they choose to depict? If they’re feeling rebellious, perhaps a piece of digital conceptual art, as in the visions of artist and film-maker Davide Quagliola aka Quayola.
Quayola’s best-known work is the Strata series, the fourth iteration of which will be unveiled at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille this September. Screening looped animations of 17th-century artworks, the artist describes Strata 4 as ’an exploration of this museum’s spaces, especially the rooms where the Flemish collection is. It is mainly an exploration of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck paintings,’ he says. There is audio, too, conjuring what Quayola’s digital forms might sound like if invading a Renaissance masterpiece.
In Strata 1, 2 and 3 Quayola created similar responses to churches in Rome (including the Vatican), the Church of St Eustache in Paris, and the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux.
’In a way these installations are a celebration of art. I don’t think they raise any questions about the original artwork, nor any kind of critique,’ he explains. ’It’s really a process of transformation that makes you look at the original images in a very different way, somehow detaching from the original meaning of those images and really focusing on just the visual characteristics.’
It’s very modern, very digital. Quayola writes software which extracts values for the lines, patterns and colours in whatever piece he’s focusing on. This data is then reinterpreted as a new form and put into motion, with some aesthetic adjustments from the artist along the way. A stained-glass window becomes a rippling mass of colourful shapes, then transforms into an incredible crystal sculpture resembling something from Superman’s fortress at the North Pole.
The concept is inspired by Quayola’s personal journey. He left his home town of Rome in 2002 to study interactive design at the London College of Printing, aged 19. Trips back home led him to look at Rome’s art and architecture through new eyes, and he made a series of prints based on Roman Baroque churches.
’I grew up surrounded by certain images that have a very strong cultural weight. Cultural and historical implications sometimes change the way you look at images, the way you might appreciate them. They were something that I always had around me and that I had always appreciated, but I somehow never really got into the right sort of mindset to observe them objectively until I was coming back to Rome from London,’ he says.
Quayola has made films based on nature too, working with United Visual Artists to create imagery for live music acts including Kylie Minogue in 2008. And now, his self-set challenge is to take his creativity further into the commercial arena. Quayola’s already re-envisaged a trainer in animated abstract forms for Nike, and is on the roster of directors for Nexus Productions, working from their base on Shoreditch High Street in London.
’Even if it’s not directly related to a brand, there are ideas and processes behind it that could be used in different ways and could be explored and applied in very different contexts,’ he says. ’I have to say, I’m always very fascinated by car ads. Cars provide an interesting ground on which to push the boundaries and to do something that visually is very powerful it is a subject that allows you to detach from the product itself.’
At the moment, Quayola is working on several projects, including creating a piece of software called Partitura that generates visuals based on audio, which he is planning to use in some live music collaborations.