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Davide Quayola: Engaging with history

INTERVIEW: Davide Quayola's "Iconographies" (through Mar 5 at NOME) is the buzzed-about exhibition at this year's Transmediale Vorspiel. The Italian artist uses custom software to put a spin on renowned works from throughout history.

Image for Davide Quayola: Engaging with history
Edit from Iconographies #81-02, 2015. Adoration, after Botticelli. By Davide Quayola

Davide Quayola left Rome for London at 19 to escape the weight of art history that surrounded him. Ironically he soon found himself captivated by exactly that, which led him to create an ongoing and evolving series, 10 years in the making. Using custom software, he has made it possible to see paintings of legend, like Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi and Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, in entirely new ways. Iconographies brings a selection of his most recent pieces to NOME, on now and kicking off the Transmediale Vorspiel.

How were the pieces in Iconographies made?

All of them were created using custom computer vision software that I use to study paintings. I look at original images as if they were MRI scans, choosing certain parts that I want to study, like the colour, for example. It’s not like I input a painting and then there is an analytical transformation through an algorithm that spits out an image. I tweak and calibrate the result in a way that’s quite traditional. I’m pretty much painting using the software and changing the parameters, a bit like you do with a musical instrument or synthesizer. Rather than starting with a sketch, I use a set of rules and parameters.

Iconographies #16-01 Venus & Adonis After Rubens is the only piece in the show that reveals the original painting – it looks like it’s underneath a peeling digital layer.

I was very fascinated with how pieces of art change over the course of time, and how they become ruins. I worked on this piece for about two years, and at some point I started achieving this strange effect that looks a bit like frescoes that are falling apart. This adds a component of time and makes the work a bit like an imaginary archaeological finding.

Are you planning on tackling other styles of art or images?

I’m not only interested in the final results but also in the collision between the source and the output. And I find these iconographic works, which belong to a certain periods such as the Baroque and Renaissance, to be really about what they depict. For me this is not an exercise in translating what would look cool in the end, it’s about engaging with history. I feel somehow connected to it. It’s quite personal.

How is it personal?

These images are a part of my DNA. Growing up in Rome, classical paintings are always present. After moving to London at 19, I started looking at them again with a kind of nostalgia. I grew up in a family involved in the arts. My mom is a painter, not by profession, but by passion. She was the one who took me to see art as a kid, and really engaged me. In fact I talk to my mom a lot when I produce work. It’s interesting to throw these abstractions at her and then discuss the compositions in a more traditional way.

What’s at stake for you artistically?

This research is really about vision, and exploring different visual languages. In the end result it’s usually impossible to see traces of these original paintings’ narratives. This is the kind of abstraction I’m aiming for. I’m interested in creating new objects of contemplation, objects that on the one hand are generated using rules to translate the visual characteristics of the originals that at the same time strip away the iconographic and other historical narratives. When you look at something in a way you’re not really supposed to, you can discover very different things.

You had 13 group shows in 2015. How do you keep up with that crazy pace of production and exhibiting?

I have works that tour a lot. I have a lot air miles and I’m quite addicted to travelling. But I don’t produce new works for each show. For me, production is actually very slow and quite complicated. It’s not just me in a room making this stuff. I work with experienced engineers and fabricators. As a result of this hecticness, I recently set up a studio in the Italian countryside. During certain periods I go there, shut everything down and focus.

ICONOGRAPHIES Through Mar 5 | NOME, Dolziger Str. 31, Friedrichshain, S+U-Bhf Frankfurter Allee, Tue-Sat 15-19